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The press-quote byline "think of the Ramones mixed with the Carter Family" may be suitably eye-catching, but it ain't the deal as far I'm concerned. Sure, there's both a high-octane energy and a genuine old-time feel to the Hackensaw Boys' music, but that's where the comparison ends I suspect. Growing up in the Blue Ridge city of Charlottesville, the Boys've been plying their driving blend of old-time bluegrass since , releasing their first distinctly home-made disc in At that time they were an unwieldy piece that barely crammed into a coach, but two further albums along the road they've since slimmed down to a more tourable six-man unit comprising the enigmatically named Salvage, Shiner, Mahlon and The Kooky-eyed Fox together with either Pee Paw and Dante J, or Four and Baby J.

A cursory or first listen reveals these boys to have absorbed a wider slew of influences even than the Carters and the Ramones in putting together their heady mix of oldtime-with-attitude; the opener is a charming and atmospheric number, Sun's Work Undone , replete with well-judged instrumental touches banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitar and echoey ol' fiddle out there in the backwoods , whereas the second track Cannonball is a complete contrast, more like Hayseed Dixie, a breakneck dash that makes the ensuing We Are Many seem like mere granny-punk!

Mecklenburg County is pure mountain breakdown, whereas Kiss You Down There is a naughty little strut down honky-tonk rockabilly lane and Parking Lot Song is a fun jugband-bluesy throwaway. The Hackensaws also do a really neat line in road-movie introspection Alabama Shamrock, High Faller , and if anything this quieter side is more prevalent on Love What You Do than the iconoclastic thrash side. Backings are sparse yet luxurious, unexpectedly delicate for the most part, and with some cool vocal harmonies that stretch right back in time to their mentors.

This is a very satisfying album that proved even better than I'd allowed for and made me want to trail back to the Boys' previous releases. It's so good that the Hackensaw Boys love what they do - and so will you I'm sure. It's fashionable to dismiss 'prog rock' as outdated, pretentious and 'arty', it's a bit like saying that having a Simpsons poster on your wall is cooler than an original painting.

So thank God for people like ex-Genesis man Steve Hackett, Wild Orchids may never be 'album of the week' on Radio 2 but it shows that inventiveness, adventure and daring are still alive and well.

Unless you happen to be a confidante of Hackett, it's virtually impossible to say with any certainty just exactly what is meant by a lot of the music. Then again how much of Hackett's ideas you need to enjoy Wild Orchids, is debatable, because the music is designed to fire the imagination, not explain itself and in that it succeeds. Where Hackett does slightly overdo the self-indulgence is with the track titles, the second track on the album is an exotic and pleasant weave of the orient and the occident, but to call it The Fundamentals of Brainwashing may be asking too much of the casual listener.

Unless, of course, we are the butt of the author's little joke. Wild Orchids is an album that's composed and orchestrated, rather than written and played, the intricate mosaic has to fit together perfectly for it to work. Hackett is a classical musician in all but era. No-one, not even Steve Hackett, is suggesting that you could listen to Wild Orchids on a regular basis.

However, as a means of lifting yourself out of the humdrum it's a very worthwhile and enjoyable exercise. Oscar Wilde reckoned that we were all in the gutter but that some of us were looking at the stars.

He could well have had former Genesis member Steve Hackett in mind because his latest solo album Metamorpheus is one of those pieces of music that raises your aspirations. Metamorpheus isn't just the modern equivalent of classical music, it's classical music in waiting. Hopefully generations to come will think that this represents what we all listened to. It's a better legacy than much of the guff that goes around.

Right from the start, it's full of classical allusions that reach right back to Offenbach's Orpheus. However for such a weighty heritage this is a surprisingly warm and unpretentious piece. While most of the track titles sound like they were left over from Lord Of The Rings, the music itself is inviting and non-threatening. As an example of the sheer poetry of an acoustic guitar I doubt it could be bettered. If you were looking for a home for Metamorpheus then it fits neatly alongside the rustic charm of Beethoven's Pastoral.

It would be a grey and dull world without the likes of Steve Hackett to lift both our spirits and our eyes. Niche market maybe but that doesn't alter the fact that it's wonderful.

Feel-good medicine from this Kansas City-based foursome, named after a potent alcohol elixir that sponsored Hank Williams' radio show in the late s.

Their powerhouse of a debut album stomps into a new century with all the vigour of the Rolling Stones colliding head-on with Nashville. Next is Big Tornado; big country with clever high-strung acoustic touches which have you counting them in. The songs are written by brothers Fred and Greg Wickham, but not together, and producer Lou Whitney has done a fine job. It's a pleasure to listen to arrangements where there's enough space for some very pleasing musicianship, without over-indulgence and without losing the edge and the energy.

If you like all that's best of our rock'n'roll tradition, but like it served up fresh and twangy: Collectively named after a state park in the Ozarks, these natives of Springfield, southwest Missouri, mix blistering driving rock with strangely sanctified four-part harmonies to produce a forthright, biting blend of music that you've not heard quite the like of before. Ha Ha Tonka have been around since , originally under the name of Amsterband, and Buckle turns out to be just their second release.

It's an impressive, if unduly brief set, recorded in an old church with a control booth where the pulpit had once been: Caney Mountain is perhaps the best illustration of the band's unusual combination of musical elements, with energetic thrust punctuated by more vocal chanting, and You Lit Up The Night closes proceedings on a more restrained note, but tracks like Bully In The Pulpit and St.

The dichotomy of all this can make it just a little difficult at times to know quite what to make of the band's overall vision, but the resulting music is almost always distinctly invigorating. Tim Hain is described as a character, an eccentric and a public schoolboy of aristocratic descent. He is also two percent Jamaican and it said that he'd be arrested if he showed you which two percent. Bleggae is a fusion of blues and reggae, his two loves and two genres that fit because of their simplicity and their passion.

This has been covered by many, most famously by Fleetwood Mac and Reggae Lift The Blues has some reggae shouting and an impromptu Lively Up Yourself - good fun and has Prince on drums, no not that one! Fine Time Child shows that blues and reggae can mix well and features Earl Linton on harmonica. Hain's lived in voice suits this well and to be honest, the song could fit into either genre.

Somebody Turn On A Light is a highlight and like some of the others has been plundered from an earlier album. Pauline Henry makes a telling contribution on vocal. Welcome To Iraq is still as relevant today as it was when it was first released and is a wonderful critique on the intervention in Iraq.

The Wind Cries Mary is another old one but a cover this time. Jimi Hendrix, of course, and when you do one of his you have to be confident of your guitar playing. Hain comes through with flying colours, showing that he can handle his guitar as well as his talent for making a song his own. He can do straight reggae as well and Everybody's Talking To Themselves with chatting over a grinding reggae beat is testament to that.

Feels So Nice is a straightforward blues with Hain turning is a voice of pure velvet. This is the perfect way to chill out so pour yourself a glass of whatever you fancy and settle down. He opens strongly with Fine Time Child, which is blues rock with reggae style middle eight.

This features Errol Linton on harmonica and is a good introduction to the world of Tim Hain. As with many of his other tracks he gives it a reggae flavour and he has turned in a very good version. It's well produced and there's some excellent guitar work. This, of course, was made famous by Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac and, played in Hain's style, has turned into quite a happy song.

Somebody Turn On The Light is great white boy reggae with Hain's voice sounding like velvet and Pauline Henry adding her not inconsiderable vocal talents.

The good times continue with a rousing version of the well-known Madness Is Gladness and on Everybody's Talking To Themselves he shows that, although he's not Jamaican, he is the real deal. Welcome To Iraq is, not surprisingly, another anti-war song and Tim manages to blend slide guitar and reggae very well. Clever slant on this one. The eponymous title track is just One Man Went To Mow by another name and, despite being well played and sung, is probably the weakest track on offer.

Tim is back to the blues on Feels So Fine which swings along well enough with some good guitar and the spoken lyric is ok. Tim can't help himself however and flits off into his reggae rhythms.

There's another classic in the shape of Misty Blue and this fits into Tim's style very well. Clea Llewellen provides the vocal and there's no doubting that Sunnysideup are a reggae band.

I can't wait to see this powerful performer. The gifted young Glasgow-based harpist Rachel delivered her well-appointed debut album Hubcaps And Portholes around two years ago, since which time she's cemented her reputation with some abundantly sparkling live gigs in newly-convened trio mode in company with acoustic guitarist Paul Tracey and double-bassist Andy Sharkey.

But truth to tell, her harp does still provide a welcome focal point for the album's multifarious musical adventures, and Rachel's innovative textures and supple phrasing are a perfect guide to the musical landscape, tracing the most gorgeous patterns in the ether which you can't resist following avidly.

On The Lucky Smile, Rachel's fortunate to have acquired the services of producer Angus Lyon himself a highly respected accordionist, of course , who brings Rachel's own cool talent into relief not only in the surroundings of her trio but also utilising the additional textures provided by drummer Scott Mackay and cajon player Paul Jennings, with scintillating guest appearances from jazz violinist Graham McGeoch on Rachel's own composition Tsunami Jack and superb, award-winning Gaelic singer Joy Dunlop on an Argyll love-song, which also features Angus on harmonium, and a Lochaber narrative ballad.

The percussionists impart a delicious jazzy swing to the proceedings, moving between beautifully relaxed syncopations and funkier climes: Rachel's music should have an appeal even to those who would normally shun the harp, for this is a really satisfying disc, full of subtle delights and innumerable charms.

Rachel, hailing from Ullapool in the inordinately beautiful north-west of Scotland, is a young and gifted exponent of the clarsach Scottish harp who's just released this light, airy yet satisfyingly substantial CD of music that well shows the instrument's strength as a solo instrument. For this reason, any accompaniment is kept to a very bare and very sensitive minimum piano - Douglas Millar - on three of the disc's eleven tracks and flute - Peter Webster - on just one, the curiously-titled Chandni Chowk - and yes, Rachel succeeds triumphantly in convincing me of the clarsach's capabilities.

Rachel's source material is drawn from the traditions of both Ireland and Scotland mirroring those of her parents , yet she brings to these idioms a delicately expressive quality of her own which is most attractive yet hard to pinpoint more exactly; perhaps it's something in the gentleness of her attack? Rachel also proudly showcases her own compositional abilities with a handful of her own tunes including the delightful, breezy jig Starry-eyed Lads and the CD's title track which has already a firm favourite among harp players!

All in all, this is an eminently tasteful, refreshing and subtly uplifting album, not in the least tedious or unduly esoteric. Even though the dominant mode is soft-focus, there's grit in Rachel's playing too. Yes, the disc's a delight from start to finish, and beautifully recorded too by the way; although of course it helps if you're not immune to instrumental charms of the tenderly plucked variety!

I'll not harp on, then - but equally, don't let it pass you by. Farewell To The Fainthearted is the album you didn't know you had to have until you heard it. The seven members of Halfway, including the Dublin born brothers Noel and Liam Fitzpatrick have taken Americana, alt country, country rock, or whatever else you want to call it, back to the wrong side of the tracks.

These are songs about lives lived against a backdrop of rusted, broken trucks, dirt roads and stray dogs. Farewell To The Fainthearted is a gritty, no frills slice of realism, set to unforgiving guitars played with an energy and belief that can only come from personal experience. The rock n roll simmers and bubbles and its country influence, largely courtesy of the Fitzpatrick brothers, hasn't been softened by city living.

But what Farewell To The Fainthearted does, almost imperceptibly, is draw the listener into its web. In real life, love is never clean cut and there's a kick in the teeth lurking round every corner for all of us.

Halfway play the soundtrack to an imperfect world. However in the midst of Farwell To The Fainthearted lies Miles and Miles Of Love, a song so tender that it appears that the band must have been caught in an unguarded moment revealing their gentle side. It's made all the more poignant because it seems so isolated. Farwell To The Fainthearted is a complete and self-contained album, nothing on it requires anything that the band and a small and select group of guests can't supply.

It's stuffed with catchy, layered melodies carrying beautifully written and constructed lyrics but above all it generates its own heat. Even the accursed 'hidden' track works well, Lowell George's Willin takes the band from its native Australia and plants it firmly in its spiritual home, southern USA.

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And it's a bit of a grower too, which is always a good thing.. David Kidman February By a strange and perplexing coincidence, two completely different CDs bearing just "Bailey" as the artist name have arrived in my review pile within a few weeks of each other.

Even more coincidental is the fact that both cite both Nick Drake and Ray Davies among their respective influences! Bare facts aside, though, it inhabits an altogether lusher musical world than the other Bailey CD mentioned, at least for parts of its minute length. Ian Bailey seems determined to prove himself as a musical chameleon, but ends up ultimately, I feel, as more of a jack-of-all-trades and closer to being a true or complete master of none.

The musicianship is of a high standard though, and there are certainly plenty of moments to treasure here, although you have to pick around a bit to find them. The opening track Reach Out For Today is a luscious ballad, featuring some truly beautiful string playing from Richard Curran, but it's almost completely spoilt by some obtrusive and quite sickly keyboard-generated twittering noises; an overdose of synthy spacey sounds detracts from These Are Days too. However, track 4 Unsteady Beat proves that with a bit more restraint in the musical arrangement Ian can put across a ballad with real sensitivity and taste.

Ditto with Autumn Leaves , where the Ray Davies namecheck came readily to mind at least in the vocal tone and phrasing. Ian handles the thoughtful, stripped-down Clive Gregson-style acoustic ballad Behind Disguise and the standout folk-rock troubadour ballad Aching And Waiting with considerable credit too. Elsewhere there are some well, what I might term vaguely sub-Coldplay moments, but they don't offend the sensibilities at all.

There's much to admire in Ian Bailey's work, and it really does repay investigation, but in my opinion he should ditch the synths and stop trying to prove too much. Oh, and it would've been nice to have the lyrics in the booklet.

This particular Bailey brings forth an album that's only just over half the length of the CD by the other Bailey I reviewed this week. Sounds a bit dull from that tag, perhaps, but much of his work is actually rather attractive in a post-Nick-Drake kind of way School and Song Of The Lighthouse Keeper probably stick in the memory most on initial acquaintance. The downside is that his quietly rippling guitar style gets a trifle monotonous after three or four tracks, and when it's almost the only instrumental accompaniment used on the CD you need a proportionally higher level of interest in the lyrics to compensate and keep the listener's attention.

The problem here is that David tends to fall back on a kind of singsong metre and a rhyme scheme that's obvious to the point of seeming more trite than they actually are Hospital Bed and the Smiths-like Could Have Been A Sign being particular cases in point. As the title track postulates, this may be self-evidently "the way that things are done", but there's insufficient dynamic or colour contrast between the individual songs for the most part, despite occasional judicious tinkering with piano, melodica, mellotron and glockenspiel.

Very strange, especially coming from the Fylde Lancashire - one might well say! But this is a record that grabs attention right from the start, with its surfeit of invention, ideas and imagination. Glyn's music is difficult to get a handle on at first, with so many first-impressions forming a bewildering headlong rush through the ears. The kinda spaghetti-western-smalltown image that might readily be conjured up by the album's title is one that translates into the slightly cheesy musical idiom Glyn adopts on Yahoo!

And, in keeping with those tales of the old West too I suppose, Glyn's writing displays a strong sense of narrative too, as proved by the eight-minute epic Ballad Of Deano. Basically, Glyn can't resist drawing attention to himself by means of undeniably impressive, powerfully crafted musical settings and lyrics that passionately and eloquently embrace entirely justified criticism of the unforgivingly corrupt corporate world in which we try to survive.

Also, you can't ignore Glyn's acute and well-developed feel for bright and bold instrumental colour and creative texturing: If you take things at sound-face value, there's quite a feelgood aura to the album generally, notably on the bouncy sunshine-pop of Down Amongst The Living and the iron-clad stompsome beat of School Reunion, and even on the more sinister numbers like The Doomed Ship Allegory and The Clown a very Bowie-esque portrait of a paedophile.

Payback-time comes quite literally on Groomed, an examination of coercion and abuse, which comes on like a breathless cross between The Cure's Love Cats and the Hustle theme tune.

A first hearing of tracks like Kafkaesque World can be distinctly overwhelming, with its potent juxtapositions lavish musical setting with smooth crooning delivery to voice the thoughts and words of a torturer. Elsewhere, perhaps, it can be all too easy to get the feeling that Glyn is deliberately setting out to make an Impact capital "I"!

Yet, just as with any situation where there's a definite brimming-over-surfeit of artistic creativity, this eventually involves an element of excess that needs trimming - or at least channelling: In addition, and in spite of the strong sense of integrity that permeates Glyn's lyrical and musical vision, I can't altogether escape a feeling that pastiche is lurking not too far away at times; and this can leave an often desperately unsettling taste.

But then again, as with much music that unsettles, to whatever degree, it's perversely compelling, and against initial expectations I've found myself both returning to a good deal of this disc and keen to explore Glyn's two previous albums.. Roy's always had a penchant for education, in the truest sense of the word.

Education should be fun, and a child's natural enjoyment of, and willing participation in music, can be both a vital element and a useful tool. And not just to prove the point, Roy has always included a short sequence of children's songs in his live sets, which have appealed every bit as much to the adults in his audience!

The first children's album Roy made was Oats And Beans And Kangaroos, back in the mids, and as recently as nine years ago, the birth of his eldest granddaughter Jessica provided the impetus for the lovely Up The Wooden Hill collection. Now Roy has produced his final oh yes!!

And of course it's a totally engaging disc, attractively packaged and entirely unpatronising for a children's record doesn't have to be full of obvious childlike songs!

The key lies naturally in the CD's title - Tomorrow - which is shorthand for that all-important message for his own, and indeed all, grandchildren: The final two songs - Together Tomorrow and Tomorrow Lies In The Cradle the latter penned by Fred Hellerman of the Weavers group are not only practically unknown but turn out to be particularly moving, for they point this message into our consciousness ever so delightfully and leave us thinking.

Closer to home, Molly's Garden is a thoroughly charming ditty penned by Kit Roy's daughter and Molly's mum , while The Collier Brig a favourite song of Molly's even gets an unexpected airing. And when the kids have been captivated and are almost ready for bed, Roy tucks them up with the poetic story of My Pet Dragon by John Maguire , which is gently enhanced by atmospheric sea sounds created by that good Mr Kirkpatrick's accordion bellows!

In addition to the welcomely omnipresent JK, the album's signature musical backing is provided largely by Martin Simpson, Chris Coe and Andy Seward, with contributions from Andy Cutting and David Bailey and occasional chorus vocals from the assembled Bailey clan. Well, Roy's "retirement" CD, Coda, was actually meant to be his last recording wasn't it?! So I guess a further release was inevitable! And let me say at the outset that it finds Roy on finest possible form: Roy's renewed vigour is the stuff of legend, but I could say it's right there in the grooves of this record for you to reach out and touch Andy Seward has done a splendid job in capturing both the joy and strength of Roy's singing.

And of course in his choice of songs: Pride of place this time round goes to the four stunning songs from the pen of Seattle-based Jim Page, whose effective and resonant utilisation-cum-paraphrasing of borrowings from traditional and contemporary folk songs clearly strikes a chord in Roy while also recalling the comparable skill of our own Ray Hearne. But Roy keenly embraces the sentiments of each and every song he sings, whether it's George Papavgeris's all-encompassing and life-affirming anthem Friends Like These or Ian Campbell's epic and darkly prophetic Old Man's Tale.

Here Roy also brings us a contrasted pair of fine songs by David Ferrard: Continuing Roy's own personal tradition, there's a song apiece by Si Kahn and Leon Rosselson well, the latter's Leon's setting of Charles Causley's Timothy Winters , while "actual" tradition is represented by a lovely version of The Road To Dundee and a fine rendition of Handsome Molly, on which one of Roy's backing musicians is Martin Simpson, whose own recording of the song is considered a benchmark.

Roy's other instrumental collaborators here - John Kirkpatrick, Andy Cutting, Donald Grant and Andy Seward - give of their very best, playing with spirit and commitment throughout in lovingly-contoured, full-toned yet light and sensitive arrangements. Every track is both memorable and relevant, a further demonstration of Roy's total integrity, and the whole set forms both a cause for celebration of half-a-century of bringing folk music to a wide audience and yet another high point in Roy's illustrious career.

David Kidman May These are affectionate, genial, commendably polished and admirably conservative though not especially sedate renditions which make a virtue out of their intrinsic Irish character and its lovable honesty. Hereby refreshingly stripped of the customary layers of ages of grimy pub, club and showband sentimentality, these renditions of the songs that represent the Irish psyche together form a classy, and in the end likeable enough, tourist's-ear-view of popular Irish song, I'd say.

Some of us have been waiting eagerly for this landmark documentary film to be made available for home consumption! This film was a natural follow-on from the Channel 4 series Down Home, and later paved the way for key collaborations in the Transatlantic Sessions series. This celebration of cajun music and culture includes plenty of footage of musicians in their home environment, often in the same room as groups of dancers, and a tremendous feel of intense enjoyment permeates every second.

Other, arguably lesser-known artists appearing include charismatic fiddler Harry LaFleur, vibrant singer D. Menard with his Louisiana Aces and champion of progressive cajun, Wayne Toups; and Aly can be seen adding his trois sous to the musical gumbo by joining in enthusiastically at every session opportunity!

This minute film is over way too soon, and fair exudes joie de vivre par excellence! As does the accompanying CD, which contains 16 full-length music tracks from the film's featured artists 9 of the cuts also involve Bain himself.

These are presented in the same order as they occur on the documentary, although the audio CD omits two additional song performances the rockin' Zydecajun Train by Wayne Toups and Raywood by Queen Ida respectively which are exclusive to the DVD and otherwise would've conveniently slotted in after track 11 and before track 15 total playing-time of the CD would easily have permitted their inclusion.

A natural title for these master musicians' sixth joint album for the label, the release celebrates 25 years of touring together. Inevitably it's a further sparkling illustration of everything they do best, and as such not an easy album to review without indulging in the well-worn superlatives.

Equally inevitably though, any fan of these guys' fabulous musicianship will need a copy of this self-recommending record. It's probably invidious to single out individual tracks for special praise, since the duo are proven masters of so many different forms and styles of traditional music, and it's probably fair to say that I enjoyed specific tracks in specific moods. But, if pushed, I'd recommend first the stirring opening set of Irish slides that lights my candle every time, not least due to the extra buzz generated by McGoldrick's uilleann pipes.

The fiddle-led set of wedding reels track 8 packs a hefty drive yet with a lightness of touch, while there's an irresistible authentic ceilidh-band feel to the bouncy pipe-marches of the final track that won't fail to get your feet tapping.

Of the slower-paced tracks that are sensibly interspersed amongst the uptempo selections, the Rev. William Macleod's fine air Sitting In The Stern Of A Boat is the highlight for me, although the sequence also includes three gorgeous waltzes that prove perfect showcases for the musicians' inborn expressive elan. Two abundantly fine musicians still at the top of their game after a quarter of a century - and showing no signs of decline whatsoever.

Now in his 40th year as a professional musician, Aly's one of those folks who's always been right there in the forefront of Scottish traditional music: So in many respects, the time is now ripe for a suitably comprehensive overview of Aly's career to date. And barring a Free Reed box-set, a goodly series of "best-of" discs should be the next best thing.

So here's volume 1 the title I hope being a genuine indicator of Whirlie's future plans , with 16 tracks carefully chosen by Aly himself. Although it's not sequenced strictly chronologically, the disc does begin sensibly with a typical set of reels from Aly's very first solo CD, recorded in Lerwick back in , with Aly's dashing bow-strokes equally dashingly accompanied by the wonderfully sympathetic piano of Violet Tulloch and the guitar of Willie Johnson.

And from even earlier, there's a track from The Silver Bow, the mid-seventies Topic disc with Tom Anderson which did so much to bring Shetland music into public consciousness after years of commercial obscurity.

Elsewhere, the disc travels around much like the itinerant Aly himself! As an instance of this, we need look no further than the legendary Transatlantic Sessions projects, of course, and a sparkling Waiting For The Federals from Series 2 is included here; but then not everyone knows that the even more legendary Channel 4 series Down Home was TS's precursor, and this disc includes no fewer than four brilliant tracks from the recording sessions for the series hopefully as a taster for the release of the whole shebang on disc soon, please!

Hearing Aly firing away in the company of illustrious fiddlers from anywhere on the planet is always one of the deepest joys that can be experienced, and for me the "session" could go on all night and into the next week and I'd still want more! Then, to balance these euphoric moments, the disc presents several of the thoughtfully considered slower compositions and arrangements in which Aly has also always excelled. Finally, no Aly Bain collection would be complete without one of his many recordings of the traditional Shetland air Da Day Dawn, and he's chosen one of the very finest, the one with the BT Scottish Ensemble.

This is a cannily sequenced minute collection that's pretty comprehensive in its own right and works well as an independent listening programme, but on the other hand it can't help but leave me with that niggling feeling of incompleteness. Because I just know there's so much more out there in Aly's impressively exhaustive discography, and many of the original albums aren't all that readily or any longer available.

I suppose it's rather like the tip of an enormous iceberg floating in the ocean between Orkney and mainland Scotland, the catch being that the majority of the rest of that ice-floe may well be destined to remain beneath the surface. OK maybe I'm being needlessly pessimistic here - let's hope I'm proved wrong, and there now ensues a veritable flood of Aly Bain reissues!

Baird quit to go solo in but after the first two albums, Love Songs For The Hearing Impaired and Buffalo Nickel, his career's been somewhat patchy. Hodges now onboard, this marks something of a return to form.

There's no envelope pushing going on, but what you do get is solid, beer-swilling, swaggering Southern country rock n roll with cranked up ringing guitars, rolling riff-packed melodies, throaty twang vocals and air punching choruses. It won't change your life, but pour a cold one and crank the likes of Lazy Monday and Runnin' Outta Time up loud, and it could well make your evening. This is an unusual record by any standards. It can be considered doubly unusual, in fact, since Eddie's normally been responsible for the more spaciously arranged Blondel pieces - although it's not widely known that Eddie's been pursuing a parallel solo recording career for the past ten years he's released four solo CDs including a compilation, but none have been nationally distributed.

The first four songs on this disc are simply-conceived outings, initially displaying a quite jazzy demeanour, recorded close-up and live in front of an appreciative small club crowd by the sound of it. Best of this quartet are the gently reflective Memory Lane and the distinctly Tilstonesque Tramp.

Listeners coming new to Eddie's work will wonder, on the strength of these songs, why wider commercial success continues to elude Eddie. Songs like Compromised and Funny Old Life carry a laconic laid-back feel comparable to classic John Martyn, and Almost Gone has a canny grasp of delicate melody-line that recalls Clive Gregson.

Eddie's individual voice is exposed well on this brief set, ditto his deft guitar work, a talent which should be more widely appreciated too. Dear Companion is a lovely, intimate album sung and arranged by nu-folk outfit Espers' vocalist and songwriter Meg Baird: The genesis of the actual project came in an invitation to create a solo release for Philadelphia's Tequila Sunrise label, out of which nothing but a 7" single appeared and the entire LP - recorded in spare moments during the sessions for Espers II - was never made available at the time It's typically minimalist in terms of backing just Meg's own guitar or Appalachian dulcimer in the main , and Meg's clear-toned singing has never sounded more truthful and beautiful - of that I'm convinced - for she gives her all in terms of passion and conviction in "doing a really good job" of communicating these songs which evidently mean so much to her personally.

Forced to pick some highlights: Add to that an enchanting version of Sweet William And Fair Ellen, an attractive, rippling waltz-time rendition of Willie O' Winsbury and yes, it works! The final track is a gorgeous acappella rendition of the text of the opening title song as learnt from the singing of Sheila Kay Adams , bringing the experience deliciously full-circle.

This record is seriously sublime, and should if there were any justice be embraced wholeheartedly by the folk community as well as by Meg's Espers fanbase. It may be Meg's debut solo album, but I do so hope it's not her last. Baka Beyond is the seminal world-music fusion outfit founded by Martin Cradick and Su Hart, which started out on its global music exchange some 10 years ago; Rhythm Tree can be seen as the culmination of their work to date, even though after all this time we're in danger of losing the power to surprise from the juxtaposition of seemingly unlikely musico-cultural bedfellows.

The recurring constant context in which the various musics are brought together is the music of the Baka Pygmies of south-east Cameroon - hence the group name. The Baka tribe, who are masters of dance, bring an amazingly energetic spectacle to the BB live act, yet much of the uplifting quality and sheer exuberance of that collaboration also comes through on a purely audio level through the performances of the core eight-piece band you hear on this CD, notwithstanding its inevitable lack of visual distraction which as a bonus allows for greater concentration on the subtleties of the musical mix.

Here, the heady brew of Celtic, Gaelic and West African musics is so persuasive that you often have to listen really carefully to separate the strands, and in this respect I'm convinced this is the Baka's most successful marriage to date.

Musically, Rhythm Tree is a landmark in cohesive exploration of different musical cultures. I love the way in which the musical framework shifts continually withjn individual tracks, while at the same time I can appreciate the impact of specific textural or thematic elements which inform and characterise these tracks eg Su Hart's rendition of the Gaelic waulking song which forms the basis for Sad Among Strangers, the and Paddy Le Mercier's weaving violin arabesques on several of the tracks.

The Baka tribe's contributions to the album were recorded "in-house" either "in the field" or at the Music House, the purpose-built recording studio in the tribe's village funds for which were raised by the band.

One minor point, though, is that I'm not altogether convinced of the need to constantly reinforce the listener's sense of place quite so many times by interpolating natural sounds from the Baka rainforest, supremely evocative though the ululating quasi-yodel of the singer's Call Of The Forest which frames the rest of the album undeniably is.

Richard "Duck" Baker is on the face of it a musician of contradictions: His expertise extends right across the fretboard of musical genres, and over the course of his year recording career so far he's made a frightening number of solo albums, encompassing not only jazz and swing, but old-time and free improv, Irish and Scottish folk tunes, and O'Carolan to Christmas carols.

Not to mention guitar instruction videos, and heaps of music criticism, and duo albums with all manner of respected musos from experimentalists John Zorn and Henry Kaiser through to fiddler Kieran Fahy and traditional singer Molly Andrews. So you'll gather that Duck's latest recording is eagerly welcomed in this house. It's a project which has "been in the works for years", sort of evolving from a response to something people have been demanding for a while: And that's just the impeccably played, yet far from soulless, solo items on the disc, the remaining half of which is given over to some sparkling duet performances.

It's probably a very old joke by now, but if you don't respond to Duck's brilliant playing then hey, you must be "quackers"!

Its title is a clever wordplay on the well-known Dominic Behan song The Patriot Game suggested principally by the equally well-known tendency of musicians to carry their tunes to foreign shores. Its equally underselling subtitle T raditional Irish And American Music simultaneously reflects the performers and the repertoire. Should you need a quick pen-picture: American-born, London-based Duck is nothing less than a definitive premier-league fingerstyle guitarist, whereas both Ben and Maggie were born to families who emigrated to England Ben's father's that celebrated old-timer Tom Paley, and Maggie was reared in the musically vibrant London-Irish community of the 60s and 70s.

Ben's a fabulous young fiddle player who readily immerses himself in activities as diverse as Scandinavian music, revivalist oldtime with his father in the New Deal String Band and the vibrant acoustic thrash of McDermotts 2 Hours and the Levellers. And last but definitely not least, Maggie's a damnably fine flute player as well as quite simply one of the loveliest singers in the entire world. Further connectivity is assured when you realise that Duck, shortly after moving to London in the late 70s, had been responsible for introducing Maggie to Steve Tilston, sparking off one of the most wonderful collaborative partnerships of the British folk scene from the late 80s through to the mids.

So trust me, the aforementioned three musicians working together give us something truly special on this CD. Their empathy is remarkable; rarely do you hear such miraculous attunement between performers of ostensibly disparate musical disciplines or experience though anyone with a deeper knowledge of the musics concerned would argue that qualification in any case. It's a heavenly partnership, which first trod the boards of a select few local West Yorkshire venues a mere 15 months or so back if my memory serves me rightly , and just had to spawn a studio recording!

They clearly have a real good time making their music too, as you'll see from the joyously nonchalant cover photo, and in their music-making much play is made with the tension between the Irish and American senses of rhythm. A specially noteworthy feature of the performances, though, is the way in which the extraordinary talents of each of the three musicians as individuals, normally utilised in a solo situation, are adapted so very naturally to the group situation.

Duck's essentially soloistic approach, his tremendous facility for playing both melody and either countermelody or bass line, is given full rein in this unusual context of his arrangements of the tunes on this CD. And Maggie's use of the Irish flute on indigenous American old-time tunes is somewhat of a? Ben's Swedish-style harmony playing on the well-travelled The Blackbird is an unusual but effective touch, while his intense accompaniment of Maggie's excellent rendition of A Youth Inclined To Ramble is a CD highlight.

This is one of just five vocal items on this CD happily, no fewer than four of these are Maggie's, yet the fifth, Rye Whisky , brings Duck out front on an all-too-rare excursion to the vocal mike.

The faster tunes trip by abnormally lightly and fleet-footed - pieces like Poll Ha'penny which many of us first encountered as the final leg-slapping tune of the original Fairport Dirty Linen set and the closing banjo tune Robinson County are both vital and sprightly - while on the other hand the slower well, more measured! Finally a word of praise for the booklet, which manages to convey a lot of information on the tunes and songs and the performers' sources in a succinct and readable manner together with supplying the full song texts used.

The recording, a homespun production by Mike Hockenhull, faithfully reflects both a deep feel for the music and a deep knowledge of, and trust in, the musicians and their capabilities. An exemplary release this, everywhere exuding a loving attention to detail alongside the equally exemplary musicianship. Do track it down, you'll not regret it. This is a long-overdue reissue of an important Tradition LP which presented field recordings, made in , of the playing of Etta Baker and other talented musicians of the Southern Appalachians who had never previously been recorded.

Obscure they may have seemed, but uncommonly fiery is the playing, with a raw edge and unbridled vitality for whom the word "enthusiasm" might have been coined. Since those heady days, when even specialist folkies hadn't heard anything like these musicians, other recordings have surfaced featuring fiddler Hobart Smith notably those made for the Library Of Congress where he backed his sister, singer Texas Gladden , but the rest of the musicians on this collection have remained little more than names on a discography, although the influence of their playing has pervaded that of countless aspiring traditional-style guitarists, banjo players and Appalachian dulcimer exponents ever since.

Even at a temporal remove of over 50 years, you can't fail to be moved by the tremendous power of many of the performances collected here, especially the fiddle tracks.

And as well as fiddling vigorously, Hobart Smith also contributed one track on which he removed all the frets from a borrowed banjo before playing!

The rest of the musicians were all recorded in their native North Carolina, and are drawn from the family and friends of guitarist Etta Baker; they play timeless popular tunes from the tradition such as Cripple Creek, Soldier's Joy and Shady Grove as well as a few less well-known pieces.

Etta's rendition of John Henry played with a jackknife blade! I also enjoyed Richard Chase's harmonica tunes for their cheery quality and his insistence on carrying the melody along rather than forcing you to listen instead to his technique. The sound quality of the disc is raw and forward, primitive by today's standards naturally, and some of the guitar pieces are rather clangy, but it's all still perfectly listenable.

In fact, a very enjoyable disc that's also of considerable historical and heritage interest. Full liner notes are reproduced, as always with the Tradition reissues. Pretty much essential I'd say.

Etta Baker is the grand old lady of the blues and I'm sure she won't mind me saying that she is 91 years of age. She has influenced many a guitarist and Taj Mahal has said that she is the greatest single influence on his guitar style. This album of songs recorded between and shows that she is a force to be reckoned with.

There are two parts to the recording, the 'now' section which covers the first 11 songs and the 'then' section covering the final 7. Opening with 5 songs accompanied by Taj Mahal, Etta introduces us to her gentle style on the oft covered John Henry, the beautifully played Crow Jane, the wonder that is Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, the first self-penned track Madison Street Blues on which she airs her electric guitar and outshines guitarists half her age and the country blues of Railroad Bill.

She picks up the banjo for Cripple Creek, and this is a foot-tapper, and then continues the country theme on Johnson Boys. Going To The Race Track, a gentle acoustic blues, starts off a run of three songs and a poem featuring Etta on her own. Her dexterity is so astounding on Lost John that you will swear that you are listening to the playing of someone far younger.

Dew Drop is slower than most of the others but you can just imagine the drops of water falling from the spring flowers. Poem is exactly what the title says. It is a four line poem that perfectly sums up growing old. The final track of the 'now' category is Comb Blues and features the comb and paper as an instrument. Taj Mahal is back for this and is joined by Algia Mae Hinton.

This is a slow blues that harks back to the very beginning of the genre. In the 'then' category we are treated to seven songs that were recorded in July One Dime Blues, one of the three songs on the album written by Baker, sounds so contemporary that it is hard to believe that it was recorded nearly 50 years ago and it shows that she was an extremely good guitarist in her time.

Etta's father Boone Reid plays the banjo for Sourwood Mountain and there is just something about banjo music when it is well played. This is a wonderful example of finger picking and, although age may have slowed her down a tad, there's not too much difference in the two versions.

There's a second offering from her father, a different version of Johnson Boys. The banjo playing is excellent again but having heard the later version with added fiddle I have to say that I preferred that one. To finish off, Etta comes in with a strong version of the classic John Henry with excellent slide guitar and Bully Of The Town which is played in a gentle, acoustic Piedmont blues style. Etta Baker is a remarkable woman and Music Maker deserves our thanks for allowing her to record again.

Music Maker page for Etta Baker. The first album, Mercy, sought to address the blast and the random manner in which some died and others lived. In , Pretty World offered meditations on gratitude, obligation and beauty. Now comes the final part, an exploration of the price of forgiveness and the cost of clinging to anger, told through songs that pivot around the homeless and helpless, and of love found, lost and held together with tape.

On the bluesy title track we meet a field hand hoeing cotton "for the rest of my life" like the father that walked out on his family in despair, Mennonite tells of a religious kid from Mexico who, wearing his new 'pearl snap shirt', found love dressed in a "short short skirt' in a bar room and left the Lord behind, while, Palestine II and its prequel Palestine I unfolds the tale of a marriage that began with teenage passion in a travelling preacher's tent and has had to hold together through a tragic accident, hard times and history repeating itself with their daughter running away "with the boy selling bibles.

Speaking more than singing his narratives, Baker's dust and gravel voice variously recalls John Prine, Dylan, Steve Earle, Tom Waits and John Trudell, his sparsely arranged American songbook music hewing to southern backwoods folk disarmingly beautiful on the two step fiddle call and response swayer Who's Gonna Be Your Man and Texan country in the vein of Van Zandt and Kristofferson.

Opening with a brief snatch of Dixie, sung in the round by a female voice its 'look away' refrain returning to bring bitter resonance to the dark night guilty secrets of Moon and closing on the poignant Snow with its metaphor about being lost and emotionally frozen in a drift of your own making, it is both melancholic and life-affirming. It's hard not to be touched by the snapshots of the disenfranchised and losers who populate Signs, by the Waits-like Angel Hair where, on Christmas Eve, the singer recalls a fatal traffic accident on black ice a decade earlier, or by the unwanted pregnancy of Not Another Mary and the girl who "could not say I love you too.

But, at the end of the day, between the tears, Baker reminds you that, even if you're only getting by, life is worth persevering with and far better than the alternative. When musicians appear at one of our Mr Kite Benefits, I often ask about what they are listening to and who they would recommend.

So, you might imagine that his ears are well tuned to fine music. So, it was that I was recommended to Sam Baker. I believe Bob Harris also had his ear bent about Sam too. Indeed, if your ears don't get wrapped around his music soon, I'll be mightily surprised. Guests like Kevin Welch and Joy Lynn White lend their support on this first record suggesting that he's already attracting the attention of the great and good.

But, it's the music that is the star attraction. From the opening track, 'Waves', with its vivid imagery of walking down to the sea and writing a loved one's name in the sand just to see it washed away, I'm hooked. Sam's lyrics are painting pictures like this all the way. From 'another bunch of boys, another blue sky' as he contrasts a baseball game and a war zone to the car 'full of baby junk' that sit on the backseat of a homeless mum's car.

There are 'barbers with no nose', 'drunk cops', men 'in their underwear drinking beer', 'skinny boys with their rifles fighting door to door' and characters galore in his stories In fact, there is so much colour in his lyrics that the one word song titles are enough. Hear one song and you'll be drawn in to hear the rest.

Sam's voice adds to that colour with its gravely lived-in drawl reminding you of John Prine or Todd Snider. As my wife says, you'll be immediately won over if you're a sucker for the gravely voice. Put that next to those lyrics that present social commentary whilst painting all sorts of pictures in your mind and I'll be very surprised if a major label doesn't pick up this record.

Steve Henderson, March www. Long John Baldry - Remembering Leadbelly Stony Plain Records "Most of the songs in this collection have been part of my life since I first started singing in the mid's. Because they are so familiar to me I was able to record my vocals and guitar work in one 'take' for most of the tracks. K - something he tends to be very self-effacing about, as those who have seen him live at any point will recognise.

I know of no other headliner who gives his sidesmen such accolades whilst backing off from centre stage himself. This character trait is reflected in the bonus interview track on the very end of this CD, and the liner notes acknowledge Chris Barber and Lonnie Donegan and a host of other influences As to the content of the CD itself, well, I was amazed at the number of the tracks I knew so well whilst not having any Leadbelly in my record collection, nor, indeed, in compilation blues CDs - something I need to rectify but meanwhile LJB manages to cover this void magnificently.

This album is worthy of repeated playing, which may well have something to do with the sparseness rather than the 'over production' tendency found on so many of today's CDs.

This is a tribute CD, acknowledging the input of Leadbelly, but with the unique Baldry interpretation. His vocals going from the deep huskiness, for which he is so well known, to the lighter, smoother shades of his marvellously rich voice. There were, for me, moments of goose bumps when he sounded like Alexis Korner - but then they both inspired each other way back when.

LJB's voice is a musical instrument in it's own right. His guitar playing needs no accolades. What amazes me is how perilously close he came to the possibility of not being able to perform anymore. That was back in October Having not seen him for about 20 years I was taken to a gig by a friend on a whim to The Mill at Banbury.

John was not well. He managed the first half without anyone realising the levels of pain he was experiencing. He then nearly collapsed during the second part. We took him to the hospital where they had great difficulty believing that he had played a concert that night.

His finger joints were severely swollen despite being soaked in a bowl of water with all the ice from the bar during the interval. The promoter at the venue was prepared to pay back any punters the cost of their tickets. Not a single one did. A case of 'actions being stronger than words'. John has every intention of returning to UK and Europe again next year. At the moment he is about to go on the road in Australia and New Zealand. Catch him if you can. This CD has been played with great frequency since I got it when LJB toured the UK with the Manfreds back in June, , but I still find it virtually impossible to point the listener to any particular track.

The only solution is to just play the whole CD again and again. Just go order the CD for yourself and you can decide! Deep Purple, Fairport Convention, you get the idea - that's where my allegiances lie.

So, let's improve my position a little. I'd been privileged to meet John twice, on the occasion of his sadly aborted UK Tour. A close friend of mine knew John during the sixties, hadn't seen him since he'd moved to Canada, persuaded me to take her to the opening night in Banbury and I ended up putting this particular blues legend in hospital.

If you're really interested, mail me and I'll tell what is, at best, a very dull tale. That evening, musically the gig bored me intensely. Sure, the guys were all very proficient, technically adept at what they were doing, but I just didn't get it; Long John's style of blues just ain't for me.

So, I find a copy of Johns Hypertension release ' Evening Conversation ' before me, requiring a review. I'm not exactly the best person for the job because, as I've said, I just don't buy this particular style of music. The man, however, I like a great deal; he is hysterical and great fun to be with.

We only spent a couple of hours in each others company and I was gratified to learn that, when he was in the UK towards the end of , he inquired of said friend as to my whereabouts.

Needless to day, I was chuffed that he remembered me, and more than a little peeved that when he was in my home town, I'd opted to be in Hong Kong following folk rockers Little Johnny England.

And having a damn fine holiday with my daughters. Oh well, some things are just not meant to be. I've had this release on the go for a while now, and I'm almost embarrassed to say that it has not grated the nerves once.

Either I'm getting old or this music isn't quite as bad as I'd first feared. On first listen I recognised only one tune - Morning Dew. It took a while, but I finally twigged that this was the number opening the sixth Blackfoot LP some 20 odd years previously; a quick dive into the archives confirmed the authors as Tim Rose and Bonnie Dobson.

Yep, it's the same piece, wake up ears. It just sounds a little different, like the difference between the late John Lee Hooker and Black Sabbath although, to be fair, Blackfoot were closer to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the lead guitarist of the former is now a member of the latter.

Many of the songs are Baldry arrangements of numbers written by that most classical of composers, Trad Arr. I think that, if you're a fan, you'll enjoy this release. You may well have a lot of the numbers already in the studio, but this is a live album, and there is always something that little bit different - special?

I'm sure that you won't be disappointed by your purchase. Well, I just don't know, but I'll be playing CD this some more. If he comes close enough to home that is. One of a pair of new releases from Scottish songwriter and storyteller Jackie Leven, this is a disc of monologues rather than songs, and is conveniently split into two sections.

These vary from gently observed vignettes to some more overtly amusing tales of provincial life and newspaperdom, and are delivered in an initially quite low-key and diffident manner but also with evident affection; within them we meet the various characters that people the new town of Glenrodent and its newspaper offices and gain a whimsical insight into their lives and preoccupations. The episodes are punctuated with brief but attractive piano interludes composed by Michael Cosgrave and inspired largely by Scottish dance forms.

The second section of the disc brings three choice stories of Jackie Leven's own concoction: The final tale, Sex Tourist, was recorded at a club in Sydney in It matters not that all three of these tales have been released previously albeit the first and third only on not-easily-available Haunted Valley label discs , for they well complement the storytelling of the Jackie Balfour episodes.

Even so, I'm not sure there's a particularly wide audience in terms of potential record sales, I mean for this aspect of Jackie Leven's art, beyond the "occasional entertaining listen" status that inevitably accompanies spoken-word recordings, however good. A Scottish folkster with a jazz family background, Bancroft's explored both fields in her previous albums, not to mention experimenting with electronica.

There's jazz blues flavours here on the musically flirty Occasional China where she slips into scat backed by Amy Geddes providing gypsy fiddle, the breathy No Smokin with a percussion rhythm that sounds like the bellows of an electronic lung, and the skittish Dented with Tom Lyne's double bass groove.

Mostly though she channels her jazz raising into folk intimacy, delivering the rippling, bluegrass flecked Supersize Me with its laments about the lack of community and childhood in the modern age, the waltzing I Carried Your Heart's age-enduring love song and, also touching on a theme of passing years, the sparse wood-smoked When The Geese Fly South. Written four years back, Boo Hewardine guests on co-penned closing track Caroline, a 3am jazz cellar piano blues account of an unconsummated drunken one night stand and subsequent self-questioning while, underscoring the classiness of the project, the album's co-produced and mixed by Mark Freegard whose extensive credits include Maria McKee, Manic Street Preachers and, more pertinently for that sultry jazz vibe, Swans Way.

Probably more one for the Ronnie Scott's crowd than your local folk club, but certainly worth the exploring. Produced by Ray Wylie Hubbard and mastered by Gulf Morlix both of whom also guest along with Stephen Bruton , it's fairly blueprint southern barroom rock country with pumped up guitars, mouth harp, swaggery rhythms and bluesy acoustic honky tonk ballads.

They're not doing anything new, but they're as reliable and easy to slip into as an old pair of shoes. Band of Two is exactly what it says on the tin - a band comprising two musicians.

The pair in question are Croydon man Pete Fyfe and Garry Blakeley, from Hastings - two musical souls who met by chance ten years ago, discovered an affinity in their tastes and have built a great rapport and a catalogue of songs, jigs and reels that guarantees a great evening's entertainment when they play live.

Decade , the duo's second album, is packed full of high-quality songs and tunes, all played with an obvious love of the material and an infectious enthusiasm that will put a smile on your face and have you singing along. With a distinct leaning toward the Celtic end of the British musical spectrum, it's not surprising they elect to kick off with "Farewell to Ireland", a no-holds-barred instrumental workout that immediately displays the fine fiddle-playing of Blakeley and some furious strumming on the guitar by Fyfe - a tremendous opener.

Fyfe relishes the lyric, giving his vocal a menacing edge as Blakeley's fiddle ducks and weaves around it and the guitar. One of Van Morrison's best-known songs gives Blakeley his first chance at the mic, his voice a pleasing contrast to Fyfe's deeper tones.

Fyfe's playing on "Have I told you lately" comes to the fore as he overlays deft mandolin fingerwork on Blakeley's guitar. A sparser arrangement than Morrison's original but all the better for it - lovely. One of the several stand-out tracks is the pair's reading of "Fairytale of New York", the original of which featured another child of Croydon, the late Kirsty MacColl.

Two people could never, of course, hope to make a bigger noise than The Pogues at their best, but, like the Morrison song, this version loses nothing for its simplicity - well, it's such a good song, how could it fail? He strums like a man possessed, he's outrageously funny and utterly compelling.

Choochtown feels very ' live ' though some tracks are supplemented by drums, bass, electric guitar, trumpet and samples. Let's face it, this isn't sensitive stuff, so if you in the mood for something pretty and singer-songwritery, this one isn't for you. On the other hand, if you like your songs honest, bad and bloody - and you think Bob Dylan, Lou Reed or Loudon Wainwright are a little tame these days, Hamell's your guy.

This man is brilliant and he's at The Borderline again on November 2nd. Finally, a joke from Hamell's on-stage, mostly unrepeatable banter, " What has four legs and an arm? As Rebecca Hollweg's other half, he also played on and produced her album June Babies. Now he's finally made his own and, not surprisingly, several friends dropped by to return the favour. It takes a few listens, but it sneaks into the bloodstream. And it goes without saying double bass aficionados should purchase forthwith.

The quite-newly-launched Cherry Red subsidiary label Esoteric is currently doing a splendid job of reissuing all the albums of celebrated songwriter Josephine Claire Hamill, who was also quite recently hailed by Record Collector mag as "the finest vocalist you've never heard" yes, I do like the presumptive eloquence of that description!

As a taster, though, comes The Minor Fall, The Major Lift, a handsome two-disc retrospective compilation covering virtually the whole of Claire's career to date to and spanning the records she made for Island, Konk, Beggar's Banquet, Coda and finally her own label. If I'm totally honest, I don't entirely connect with some of the prog and then New Age modes with which Claire became engaged from the late 70s through to the late 80s, a blandness too far on occasion for me perhaps, but the sample tracks from the albums made during that period encapsulate what she was doing pretty well.

In all, it's actually a very sensibly programmed compilation, and certainly whets the appetite for the forthcoming projected complete reissues of all the individual albums over the next year or so and prompts a re-evaluation on my part.

And even Claire's staunchest fans will probably not own all of those albums! So to those issued thus far One House Left Standing was the product of the ingenuous Claire's signing with Island at age 16, and ambitiously showcased her nascent songwriting and her enviably pure and uncannily cultured singing voice on an unexpectedly wide-ranging set of songs, mainly penned by Claire herself some with her then-boyfriend Mike Coles.

The record started out stylishly, with the kittenish Dixieland swing of Baseball Blues whoa, what an opener! It's a persuasive set that wears very well indeed, and its ten tracks are topped up with two bonus cuts, the lengthy and intense single B-side Alice In The Streets Of Darlington and a cutglass cover of Lindisfarne's Meet Me On The Corner featuring Gerry Rafferty and Stealer's Wheel as backing musicians.

A more pronounced Joni Mitchell influence also seemed to be present, especially in the melodic contours of songs like To The Stars. There are some sensitive string arrangements too courtesy of Nick Harrison , and the final track Peaceful was even recorded alfresco in the cold in the middle of the night!

The odd-track-out is a quite strident cover of Jimmy Reed's Baby What's Wrong With You which, well done though it is, breaks the flow of the album's original second side somewhat. Sadly, there are no bonus tracks with this reissue - but, as with One House The third of the reissued albums, Voices, propels us forward 12 years to , by which time much water had flown under Claire's musical bridge.

At that time, Claire was settled and married, and had just supported Rick Wakeman on a national tour. At the instigation of her husband Nick, Claire dipped her tentative toes into the then-nascent New Age genre, recording a whole album based around the concept of a vocal interpretation of the changing seasons.

Using then-pioneering layering techniques to create a thick, ethereal soundscape from her own extraordinary vocal performances, Voices proved a startlingly original record which genuinely broadened musical horizons, astounding listeners and defying preconceptions of what might "sell". Heard now, it seems a verys artefact, rather akin to Kate Bush without the outlandish eccentricities I thought, and definitely a precursor of what's now regarded as the Enya sound especially in its wash of swooning, shifting vocal colours - but it doesn't sound dated in the way that much 80s music does, and it contains some inspiring and uplifting composition.

From the vantage point of two decades on, it's easy to underestimate how inventive and original this music was back in the mids, and this repackage allows us to reassess its magic in all its aural splendour. The fourth album to be reissued in this series, Love In The Afternoon, dates from , a time when Claire was on a creative roll after the massive success of the Voices album.

It's a collection of songs without an overall concept, and although it doesn't suffer from disunity in that sense and there are some fine songs among its nine tracks it still doesn't quite satisfy as an entirety.

Trees, Japanese Lullaby and to some extent Glastonbury and the title track are to some extent all style-defining within Claire's later output, but the album's standout is probably Beauty Of England which is drawn from an aborted concept album Domesday, about the Battle Of Hastings.

Love In The Afternoon shares with many albums of its time a distinctly 80s synth-dominated backing, which now makes it sound quite dated more so than Voices , and this dilutes the impact of Claire's writing somewhat for me. It would be interesting to hear some of these songs with a less elaborate textural backdrop. Best known for a string of albums on Island Records in the early seventies, Middlesborough vocalist Claire Hamill has never stuck rigidly to one formula, reinventing herself along the way as New-Age songstress, occasional rock-chick singer with Wishbone Ash and conceiving the remarkable 'Voices' album, which featured multi-layered arrangements of Claire's erm, voice!

Released in , her most recent studio album sees Claire return to the comparative comfort zone of singer-songwriter mode, yet several of the songs in this collection stand comfortably alongside the best of her earlier work; the jazz-tinged 'Beautiful Moon' featuring the moody trumpet of Duncan Mackay, a song which would not sound out of place on a record by Madeleine Peyroux or Diana Krall and the bright 'In the Leaves of the Park', as crisp and clear as a brisk Autumn walk.

Claire obviously has a keen ear for a cover and her little-girl-lost vocals are perfectly suited to 'Blue' from the pen of McAlmont and Butler. We also get another chance to hear the beautiful 'You Take My Breath Away', re-recorded due to the renewed interest in her work largely thanks to the surprise discovery of a recorded version of Claire's song by the late Eva Cassidy.

There is an air of melancholy throughout much of this album, even on the uptempo 'Mr Wonderful', but it is an emotion that Claire handles better than most.

On the closing track, 'Singer', she proclaims "where did you go, I used to buy your records many years ago. She's been likened to Bush, Harvey and Lennox as well as Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap, and while you'll hear the comparisons, she's still very much her own voice.

The album is an exotic musical journey, brushing the multicultural world wings of dreamy celestial pop tinged with Gaelic mist Exist , cobwebby jazz soul folk The Bush infused Pick Me Up , airy Brill building balladry There It Is , the panoramic rhythms of African plains How Beautiful , and the melting icicle soulful ebb and flow fragility of Deeper Glorious. Then there's the Weill cabaret shades to All In Adoration with its puttering percussion beats and woodwind trills, the classical hymnal majesty of Liathach's choral beauty and, drawing on her time in Cambodia, the intoxicatingly hushed seductiveness that is Mekong Song.

She's releasing Winter Is Over a a trailer single, a playfully catchy pizzicato plucked strings waltzer that suggests a sort of Oriental Bjork by way of an arthouse 40s Broadway musical. But it's the closing Think Of Me that's the real deceptive killer, a windchime, musical box Gaelic lullaby that floats you away on a pillow of clouds and twinkling night stars. Sophisticated, sensuous, complex, layered and utterly beguiling, there's a song here called Paradise. A better description of the album would be hard to conjure.

Well there's certainly plenty evidence of a rock edge and drive here, but his roots are certainly showing, too. Just seven songs of high quality combine a Guy Clark-like fondness for characters and story-telling with a very twenty-first century musical approach.

Three tracks of random radio stuff "reception 1", etc don't make too much sense to me; I guess it's an attempt to make the songs seem like random unknown voices from the ether too.

Nonetheless, bags of atmosphere are conjured from some pretty sparse ingredients; Nathan's warm, slightly fractured vocal on Cinders is sung right up against the mike and supported by an arrangement of great delicacy shot through with steel - reminiscent, I suppose, of one of Lou Reed's painfully intimate songs.

If Cinders was on your mp3 and popped up out of the blue I think you'd have to stop what you were doing to drink it all in. Weary World, on the other hand, demonstrates an ability to make an apparently simple, straightforward tune and lyric carry an awful lot of emotional weight, not an easy trick to pull off whilst Change could have come from Nels Andrews' songbook; it has a similar weighty, considered style to the acoustic guitar sound, an echo-laden pedal steel for the atmosphere and an acute sensitivity for the disappointments experienced in real lives - a long way from the vacuous optimism of pop music.

Receive, in contrast, gets the electric guitar brought out and a pretty fuzzy, heavy sound backed by a thumping drum; Nathan's vocals have the edge required for a very good rock voice and the warmth that draws you in for the quieter, folkier songs.

It's a slow-burner, this one, and it'd be well worthy buying or downloading what you can and familiarise yourself with Nathan Hamilton's style before you check him out live; there's hidden treasures here and I think the man could be a real find. It's a bit over two years since Peter's last solo studio recording Incoherence , but he's been busy over that time, not just with the VdGG reunion tour and remasters but also in supervising the remastered reissues of his 70s Charisma solo albums.

All despite having suffered a heart attack, an experience which no doubt played a part in triggering this new set of songs on which Peter reflects on mortality and on considerations of history both personal and public. With admirable, if typically cryptic succinctness, Peter admits that "the main theme here is the long dive down into not being what we were", and in confronting this situation I think he's produced a very fine set indeed, one that ranks with those Charisma albums in actual songwriting power yet doesn't possess anything like the impenetrability or degree of turn-off idiosyncrasy that many music-lovers had often found such a barrier to appreciating his earlier output.

That doesn't mean to say that Peter's abandoned the experimental elements in his music - indeed, the urge to forge new and intriguing sonic landscapes is as strong as ever eg the fragmented voice and treated-piano textures of White Dot ; and Singularity is once more a totally solo effort, all instruments and voices you hear belonging to Peter himself.

Lyric-wise, the Hammill hallmarks of literate and expressive heart-baring are there in abundance, yet imbued with a new maturity in their freshness of execution.

What was once a distinctly inward-looking narcissism is replaced by a worldly realism, often quite self-critical and definitely not devoid of humour. Peter's metaphors are still intelligently conceived, but they're inclusive not opaque, and the music expresses a fragile tenderness amid the sometimes still painful recollection and assessment of a personal situation. Peter uses the key word "singularity" in both senses: At its most intense as on Event Horizon , Peter's writing exhibits an expressive beauty that's both accessible and immensely compelling.

Now if in the past you were put off more by Peter's intensity, by way of his histrionic vocal delivery, than the actual admittedly often impenetrable content of his songs, then I firmly believe that Singularity may be the album to now give you the optimum chance to re-evaluate his music - for although it's still recognisably Hammill, the actual expression of the drama and thought-content within the songs is toned down naturally not in any way dumbed down, I hasten to add and, allied to some genuinely interesting musical content, makes for a most rewarding listening experience and hey, Naked To The Flame even contains a snatch of tune we can whistle along with Peter!

But that doesn't for a moment mean that Peter's compromised his ideals or his talent. Singularity is a grand achievement by any standards, flying defiantly in the face of those who'd argue that anyone who's been writing and recording for 40 years is bound to have nothing new to say. Following in quick succession barely a month after the previous batch, here's the second tranche of Peter Hammill remastered reissues, covering his four solo releases which originally came out between March and October The album does, however, at least seem to audibly begin where Nadir's Big Chance left off, in the sense of throwing at us the proto-punk riff-heavy vibe of Crying Wolf.

Over comes with three bonus tracks: Coming complete with some striking cover photos like the front shot which I always thought made PH look like Kenny Everett!

Although there's often a distinct sense of trial-and-error about much of the album, it's amazing how it hangs together and although it's not my favourite Hammill album by any means, it nevertheless retains an aggressively confident quality right through. The two bonus tracks, spare versions of album tracks If I Could and The Mousetrap taken from the Kansas City tape, exude an intense self-containment.

The followup, pH7 which turned out to be Peter's final album for Charisma , appeared just over a year later, in October ; Peter regarded it as a twin to Future, and certainly it contained a rather similar mix of experimentation and social commentary. Its at once punning and misleading title it was PH's eighth album not his seventh!

It began, however, with two for PH less characteristic tracks: My Favourite, a fairly lightweight pop-love-song with slightly laboured imagery redeemed by a charming string arrangement, and then the declamatory new-wave stance of Careering. Thankfully there's stronger material to come: Not For Keith is a brief but affecting tribute to VDGG's first bass player Keith Ellis; Handicap And Equality harks back to the social-commentary folk-troubadour approach, whereas The Old School Tie is an even more obvious attack on politicians and the dawn of spin, imbued with all due venom and bile.

Imperial Walls, a setting of 8th century Saxon words found displayed at the Roman baths at Bath, has a scratchy grandeur all its own.

Compositionally, the album's odd-man-out is an old song of Chris Judge Smith's Time For A Change , but it's a tribute to Peter that it suffers not from the comparison with his own songs. A Black Box, released in the late summer of , was a go-it-alone independent-label effort, self-released on S-type Records almost as a gesture of frustration at the albeit inevitable situation of being dropped from Charisma due partly to the ever-familiar story that although Peter's albums were critically esteemed, his music wasn't deemed commercially viable.

Like most of Peter's music, it can at times be tough going but it invariably rewards the patient listener. In common with the previous batch of Hammill digitally remastered reissues, the above four are state-of-the-art, and sound better than ever. All sleeve art and lyrics are faithfully reproduced, and the reissues benefit from Peter's own commentary within the booklet notes. Listening to these albums again in sequence I experience an embarrassment of riches, a torrent of ideas and feelings that's truly overwhelming.

Peter's songs are singularly dramatic, turbulent, restless, angst-ridden utterances, yet they often possess much quiet beauty both musical and lyrical amidst all the torment. The second and third and suitably lengthily-titled! Chameleon, though a typically introspective collection, is compared with some of his earlier VDGG work less concerned with wilful sci-fi obscurity and more with the deeply personal; if it were issued today, I suspect it would probably fall most readily into the indie category notably in respect of the occasionally brittle nature of the home-studio-produced sound and its primitive, much-of-its-time approach to stereo imaging , but that's not in any way to denigrate its many abundantly impressive qualities.

As Peter himself admits, he was "stumbling under the guidance of instinct as much as conscious innovation", although "many of the moves he made at this time were to prove pivotal in his later development". Like all of Peter's work, it's music of startling, nay frightening originality.

In matters such as his distinctly independent spirit and obstinate integrity especially I often hear a kinship with significant mavericks like Bowie and Harper, but the truth is that for the most part Peter's songs sound like absolutely nobody else's, even though there may be elements and echoes of modern-day chanson flooding through pieces like In The End and the sinister pastoral of What's It Worth.

And he was at first slow to distance himself completely from VDGG, as Easy To Slip Away with its throwback to the personae of Refugees and In The Black Room a song originally destined for the band's next, unrecorded - intended fifth - album, with its grandiose, episodic nature and band dynamics both show in their different ways. Chameleon may be the first real fruit of Peter's potential solo career, but it's an astonishingly assured and coherent album.

Even at a temporal remove of some 30 years, it's almost too much to take in at once: This remastered edition comes with three bonus tracks: The third bonus track Rain 3 AM is an unreleased curiosity from around the time of the album: Peter's pulsating electric guitar work on this track in particular betrays the influence of Spirit's Randy California, who made a one-off guest appearance on another of the album's key tracks, Red Shift.

Of the four bonus cuts, three are versions of album tracks which come from a roughly contemporaneous Peel session with David Jackson in tow , the last The Lie being another delightfully over-the-top selection from the abovementioned Kansas City concert.

In Camera was the first Hammill solo album on which everything aside from percussion on just three tracks was played by Peter himself. It continues the startling advances made on The Silent Corner, notably in terms of wild experimentation, while the sheer scope of its material bravely presents the listener with at times uncomfortable challenges in the form of extreme contrasts, from the relatively orthodox reflective confessional of Again to the rockist angst of Tapeworm, the intriguing guitar-quartet setting of The Comet, The Course, The Tail to the ultra-synth texturings of Faint Heart And The Sermon, and the strange but logical pairing of the harmonium-rich Gog misprinted as Go on the back cover - oops!

Three bonus tracks, taken from a Peel session recorded shortly after the album's release, are sparse voice-and-piano readings of two of the album's songs plus a real rarity: Though released in February , barely six months after In Camera, Nadir's Big Chance saw the Chameleon mutate dramatically into Rikki Nadir, a kind of proto-punk alter-ego!

The album comprised a set of by Hammill standards pithy quasi-pop-songs though in practice few of them weigh in at under four minutes! Not unnaturally, it was received with some puzzlement and a degree of antipathy, but in retrospect, although it's not necessarily Peter's finest forty-seven minutes, I really rather like it for what it is - and it sounds great in this remaster, even though it yields no bonus tracks.

The digital remasterings of these four albums have been carried out by Peter himself, and he's opened out the original slightly thin sound with far better presence, notably in certain of the bass frequencies, and the bonus tracks are well worth having; these sensibly-coordinated reissues, which are graced with additional new notes by Peter too, are state-of-the-art.

A few months after Nadir, VDGG ended its four-year set-aside, and the Godbluff lineup was to take up most of Peter's time for a year or so; a convenient point at which to break my survey of Hammill remasters - the next batch will appear shortly.

This has actually been a really difficult record to review, basically since it's nigh impossible to capture the incredibly individual essence of Brighton-based Mary's wildly original and very very special talent as a singer and songwriter.

It's also one of those "less is more" jobs that makes much out of exceedingly minimal resources. And it's a seriously scary experience from beginning to end - at times it's almost too disturbing to listen to at all except in the comfort of your own mind. But the first thing you'll hear, after the bald tenor guitar intro that is, will be Mary's totally extraordinary voice, which will bring your ears stark upright, for it takes the art of singing into an unearthly place indeed you'll either love it or hate it with a passion, I suspect - and I love it!

It's a voice of paradoxes: Mary's writing - and indeed her whole sound-world - is peculiarly haunting. Imagery is spellbindingly strange, both significantly eldritch and properly poetic, sometimes ostensibly impenetrable but always keeping a firm handle on the boundaries of perception. Melodies sound primordial, ancient, modal, yet with adventurous turns of the screw. The feel of the music, and some of the instrumentation Mary has at her command, is imaginative and often distinctly ISB for instance, there's a gorgeous swooning cello line on Honey that just cries out to be played on bowed gimbri!

A small complement of extra musicians including Alice Eldridge, Jo Burke, Alistair Strachan, Grant Allerdyce and co-engineer Joe Watson supplement Mary's guitar, being used eminently selectively and to brilliant effect. Perhaps the most striking marriage of words and music comes on The Bell They Gave You, but every song here has much to offer in terms of aural and verbal stimulation and even the interpolated samples on Free Grace and the cryptic Exeunt don't grate or disrupt the album's curiously logical flow.

Features that might in lesser hands become just a gimmick here prove essential to the impact of the songs - for example, the hidden track Encore For Florence a weirdly touching tribute to celebrated "tuneless, tone-deaf soprano" Florence Foster Jenkins sets a parlour piano amidst the faux-crackle of an ancient 78 in the manner of a fusty attic discovery.

And maybe the strangest and most immediately memorable among the host of strange songs, is the acappella Ballad Of The Talking Dog, which takes the time-honoured "bunch of green holly and ivy" refrain from the domain of classic folk balladry and twists it around multiple vocal chords to the creepy accompaniment of hand and mouth percussion, with spectral whistling, discords and spoken counterpoints - it sounds like the Addams family singing a Child Ballad at their fireside on a bleak winter's evening!

Like the whole album in fact, this track is at once soothing and discomforting. All in all, an extraordinary record: Wayne The Train Hancock is one of those guys who believes in doing things the old fashioned way. Well, at least when it comes to recording. Extended sessions in the studio are not for these boys. A Town Blues was recorded in 20 hours and mixed in two days. Bloodshot Records, their new label, might even be accused of providing them the luxury of extra hours.

Well, at least a couple of them. The reason that he's able to do this is that the band is a hard working outfit travelling the road performing more than most.

The net result is that all their albums have a spontaneous feel well, they would, wouldnt they and a bunch of songs that have matured with performance on the road.

A recipe that has worked fine for all of their albums. At the production controls, this time, is Lloyd Maines who is favoured by many of our country music friends in the US. Rightfully acknowledged on this album as The Professor for all his sterling work in this area. He closes out the album accompanying Wayne to get the regulatory forty minutes of CD time on Railroad Blues. A track that's as live as you'll get. So, if you havent gathered already, the music of Wayne Hancock is country - the honky tonk way.

All styles are here. The up tempo songs swing along with a highlight in Miller, Jack And Mad Dog warning of the dangerous effect of the demon drink and driving combination. There are lonesome ballads such as Happy Birthday Julie which has the singer passing on congratulations to the girlfriend who left him and got killed in a car crash.

Mr Hancocks pen accounts for ten of the tracks with the others including Cow Cow Boogie which was made famous by Ella Mae Morse who was popular in the s and 50s. This gives you a good clue as to where this band are positioned. Yes, its traditional honky tonk in all its flavours with great songs done just like a live show. The odds have to be that Hand - whom Willie Nelson describes as the 'real deal' - will remain as unfazed and unaffected as his music by the acclaim that will surely follow The Truth Will Set You Free.

While the revolutions of Americana, 'big hat' country and 'nu country' have swirled around him, James Hand has steadfastly remained true to the heart and soul of old country, the kind that served Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb so well. While a 'career' musician, one who has done nothing else in his life, may have to search long and hard for the truth of his songs, Hand has to look no further than his own life.

He has also drawn deeply on a lifetime's experiences at the 'unknown' end of the musical spectrum, James Hand isn't showbusiness, to echo Nelson's wise words, he's the 'real deal'.

This collection of a dozen originals gives a small overview of Hand's work, his country music encompasses the whole range, beginning with the wonderfully light and sunny swing of Banks Of The Brazos and ending with When You Stopped Loving Me, So Did I, not only a classic country title but a song that could be as old as country music itself. Without Hands's tender touch it could easily have been swamped by corn, however three chords and the truth never hit home quite so sharply.

There's almost a novelty factor in listening to an artist play pure, undiluted country music, no whistles no bells, just plain old, from the heart country. James Hand may have taken 40 years to get intot he studio but I'll bet it doesn't take another 40 for him to be back. Drifting away to Brett Spark's dark baritone on the opening cello waltzing Linger, Let Me Linger I was transported back to the days of the old school doo wop crooners like the Ink Spots, melting in the warmth of the unbridled romanticism captured in lines like "I am the puddles in the street waiting for your falling leaves".

Recorded for their 20th wedding anniversary, it's an album of admittedly often skewed love songs, steeped in spirituality and the rich loam of nature with metaphors and images of spiders, birds, trees and foliage.

Indeed, the pedal steel keening Little Sparrows talks of schools of shining fish, swarms of buzzing bees, geese and ants with love painted as Jonah on the raging seas embracing the whale that comes to swallow him while the twangy, Johnny Cash evoking Wild Wood has them conjuring a stone age love nest of stick and bones as he declares he will "bark like a dog in your arms.

Invested with their longtime Louvin, Stanley and Everly influences, songs like When You Whispered carried in the traditional arms of banjo and pedal steel with bluegrass waltzes and mountain music slow dances, it's a marvellous testament to the couple's devotion to both each other and their musical roots.

Nothing here falls short of wonder, but particularly deserving of mention has to be A Thousand Diamond Rings with its surf guitar noir mood, the Spanish classical guitar and gothic melancholy of The Winding Corn Maze more swarming bees, here and the 40s ragtime lounge whistling shuffle of The Loneliness of Magnets, an inspired image of separated lovers. Here's to their 25th. Over the years they've been musical partners Brett and Rennie Sparks have built a reputation as one of the world's finest purveyors of melancholy Americana, their music conjuring images of dust hung desert nights and Appalachian mountains silhouetted against the evening sky as they sit round the camp fire singing songs of loss, death and damnation.

So, a surprise then to find the new album a relatively more upbeat affair, noting a world waltzing towards self-destruction but celebrating the small and infinite moments of beauty and wonder that nature provides to soothe the soul's fears.

Using such instruments as mellotron and wine glasses and drawing on the sepia tinted worlds of hillbilly, tin pan alley ballads, cowboy country, western slow waltzers and, on Beautiful William, even medieval tunes, Brett crafts the careworn honky tonk melodies upon which songs like Somewhere Else To Be, Bowling Alley Blues very George Jones and Your Great Journey are built.

Meanwhile, Rennie takes lyrical inspiration from the life of Nicola Tesla, the electrical engineer and scientist who invented alternating current transmitters but whose ambivalence to the world let him to become a recluse in his hotel room, unable to bear the touch of human skin. However, as she notes in the waltzing Tesla's Hotel Room from where comes the album's title, one day he opened the window and befriended pigeons, finding his way back out of the darkness.

It's that contact with the universal her songs explore. Unfolding in airport lounges the throaty Neil Young-like All The Time In Airports , bowling alleys Bowling Alley Bar and graveyards White Lights , she tells stories of hunters shooting prey that transforms into their true love Hunter Green , of shoes hung over telephone wires These Golden Jewels and post apocalypse life After We Shot The Grizzly , striking emotional chords from such images as a black glove on the cliffs, broken cheap sunglasses, and 'a small bag of onion rings'.

Existential, metaphysical, whatever, the Sparks dig beneath the dry clay and turn dulled stones into diamonds. A thing of wonder indeed. The Handsome Family - Singing Bones Loose Now suitably based in Albuquerque, Mexico, baritone Brett Sparks and his ethereal voiced lyricist wife Rennie follow up 's breakthrough death ballads collection Twilight with yet another collection of poisoned dark country melancholia that reinforces their reputation as the Johnny Cash and June Carter of contemporary Americana..

If you've not encountered them before, then try and imagine a rocky mesa at dusk, cacti and stark jutting Appalachian mountains silhouetted against the evening sky, the sound of rattlesnakes occasionally breaking the silence, dust gathering in your throat, an empty whisky bottle in your hand and the death angel sitting round a camp fire with an acoustic guitar singing of the souls that have passed this way en route to damnation.

This time round they've fleshed out the sound somewhat, pushing the boat out by adding musical saw and pedal steel to the basic mix of guitars, keyboards and drums mandolin and such regular embelishments as auto harp, bango and violin. But the landscape remains mich the same with its dark valleys, black hills, and creeping shadows a perfect backdrop to songs that explore the "veil between this world and the next" on numbers such as the whippoorwilling waltz Hour Store where the sleepless and the lost push their trollies as the crying ghosts of dead shoppers flit in and out the aisles, the cowboy dying in the desert on the clacking chugger The Song of a Hundred Toads or the farmer lowering himself down The Bottomless Hole behind the barn where dead cows, garbage and tractors seem to fall forever.

Texas Gothic at its finest, there's no better wallow in gallows humour and death balladry to be had this side of Nick Cave. This duo's fourth album In The Air was one of the listening highlights of for me, and this new one coincides handsomely with a UK tour. Husband and wife team Brett and Rennie Sparks make very strange music that's at once comforting and unsettling, smooth and caustic; it's both seriously weird and weirdly serious. Kinda like an unpardonably sweet, easy-on-the-ear gothic country, but lots more addictive than that tag might imply - try to imagine Johnny Cash singing Beefheart lyrics!

Brett's is the golden voice, and he also plays almost everything in sight, while Rennie seems to content to pen those peculiarly poetic lyrics while contributing occasional vocals and autoharp. The songs contain some exquisite imagery, which often appears inconsequential but is actually finely crafted, while musical settings are by turns mournful There Is A Sound , sinisterly jaunty All The TVs In Town and creepy Gravity , often running counter to what you'd expect from a cursory reading of the texts.

With typical oddball directness, the insert helpfully explains that "this CD was recorded at home on our Macintosh G You must experience the uniqueness of the Sparks Family's vision at least once in your life! Formerly leader of 80s Newcastle upon Tyne underachievers Hurrah! Little short of a modern day hymn with a soaring arms-linked swaying chorus that builds to a jubilant, uplifting finale as he sings 'let now every heart rejoice', it's hard not to find the words Rufus, Wainright, Buckley and Jeff rising unbidden to the lips.

The same is true throughout the album where you might also see parallels with Martin Stephenson with whom he's collaborated on a Grant McLennan tribute , but which unfolds to reveal him as very much his own man.

Indeed, that hymnal quality is also forcefully to be heard on the no less outstanding Midwinter's Feast with its hallelujah chorus, lines about church bells and wheezing harmonium and the closing piano backed, emotion quivering Peace In Our Time as he sings "God bless our bombs and the guns we are firing, caught in the crossfire of lies we told.

Dealing in themes of love, loss uncertainty and disillusion, the album's musical textures are simple but rich. The opening piano ballad Beautiful Thing hints at Brel and Buckley equally you could also imagine hearing it on an early Scott Walker album , Darkest Night is brooding, muscular bluesy soul flecked folk, River Of Song harks to Irish trad folk swayalong while acoustic Americana warms the heart of The Slow Road and the yearningly gorgeous Whisper In Your Mind with its pedal steel and Paul Heaton colours.

There's not a weak moment here but it would be remiss not to also make special mention of Let The Lights Go Down, a spare, romantically bruised acoustic song of pleading and resignation that features shared vocals with Maria Yuriko and curls around the ears like aural aromatherapy. Hopefully it won't mirror Hurrah! Let now every heart rejoice, indeed. This at first seems a confusing record.

It's labelled as "Chinese folk revival", and, whilst it certainly emanates from Beijing, its inspiration derives comes more from Mongolian folk music. Hanggai the name describes an idealised grassland landscape of mountains, trees, rivers and blue skies is a group of young musicians, mostly from Inner Mongolia. Aiding Ilchi and his tobshuur two-stringed lute in his endeavours are horsehair-fiddle morin khuur player Hugejiltu and deep bass singer Bagen music students steeped in the traditional music , with Xu Jinhchen sanxian , Hexigtuu sihu , further assisted by producers Robin Haller and Matteo Scumaci who add electric and bass guitar, banjo and programming.

The latter hints at the nature of Hanggai's treatments of the traditional material, with authentically spare basic textures augmented by percussion, occasional western influences and natural and street sounds from the surroundings Beijing. It's little wonder that Hanggai have attracted a cult following in China amongst those seeking an antidote to Chinese boy bands! Some tracks sound true-traditional Wuji is just voice chanting against a wailing fiddle line , whereas My Banjo And I great title!

Some western-style twang guitar embellishes Five Heroes, while Flowers builds on a hypnotic, driving lute rhythm; the rather gentler melody of Haar Hu could almost be a Mongolian version of Scarborough Fair, and - most fun of all - there's even a raucous, madly accelerating Drinking Song. Maybe it shouldn't work, you say, but it does - and I get the strong feeling that this is but the start, and that there's plenty more territory yet to be explored in this creative and genuinely exciting reinterpretation of traditional Mongolian music.

What if music had smells? If CDs were impregnated with an aroma that embodied the essence of the sounds. Motorhead would be leather, axle grease and sweat, Lucinda Williams would be the smell of tarmac intermingling with fresh cornfields, Radiohead would be antiseptic and anything from the Pop Idols stable would, of course, be a ripe processed cheese.

If that were the case then playing the Dogs would fill the room with the scent of leafy English country lanes, the grass glistening with dew, raindrops from a summer shower dripping from leaves on the trees, a clean freshness in the air. Comprising Andy Allen, formerly a jobbing member of the Pistols and Professionals, his ex-lover Joanna 'Piano' Pace, and his but not her daughter Lily Ramona, it's been four years since the South London trio emerged with their Joe Boyd overseen debut, Bareback, on his Hannibal label.

Reviews glowed for their fusion of English folk rock, celtic country and the sort of midwest American gothic embodied by Matthews Southern Comfort, underpinning lyrics of a generally downbeat mood. However a cancelled Rankins tour on which they'd been booked as support followed by label problems, took the edge off what should have been fast lane progress up the folk roots ladder.

Now they're back via a different licensing deal, still with Boyd keeping a watchful eye, and while there's times when the mix has a few too many rough edges, if the wheels turn smoothly there's no reason why this shouldn't elevate them to the hallowed ranks of artists such as the Indigo Girls, Dear Janes, the McGarrigles, Poozies, Michelle Shocked, and the early incarnation of Suzanne Vega. Evoking worthy comparisons to the likes of McTell, Thompson and Martin Taylor, Allen's nimble fretwork dances all over the album, cascading arpeggios, tumbling lullabies, meditative strums, bluegrass banjo, steel strings twanging and resonating under his fingertips.

Here and there the acoustic guitars are coloured with mournful woodwind, hand percussion, cello, dulcimer, and double bass but mostly they're left to weave their own spells, the women's voices - sometimes in harmony, more often with Piano's dust and creekwater wearied whispering tones taking lead - providing the real complementary textures. Her songs haven't exactly found the sunnier paths of life, but as the album title, Whole Way where they express the optimistic hope to ' sell a lot of records ' and even death song Little Door " I wouldn't say the world has opened up, just a little door but it's enough " hint there's at least rays of light coming through and any darker concerns are well shaded behind the generally sprightly tunes.

Spanning English trad folk flavours and appalachian mountain music Let Alone Me , it's hard to pin down prize tracks from the 12 contained here, but pushed to name favourites then the repeat play button hits on the haunting Half Smile with the two women weaving witchy, dank forest harmonies as a flute threads its way between the spaces, the resigned Women Who Love Too Much as Fred Neil meets Sandy Denny , Singers shades of Leonard Cohen and early Judy Collins and Hollywood , a dreamy tale of empty success, self-deceptions and those left behind in the road to fame on which Allen takes lead vocals, his timbre and phrasing sounding not unlike Billy Bragg.

It's a beguiling, intoxicating album, inhale and breath in deep. If you can't aurally picture that, then just think Ottawa's Lucinda Williams with a pinch of Gillian Welch and you'll have a good idea of what lies inside the CD case. Songs about busted relationships, broken dreams, temptations, growing older and the slippery search for redemption, delivered in world weary dusty tones, it's a fine collection of roots country tinged here and there with bluegrass banjo courtesy of guitarist producer David Baxter and, on opening track When Lovers Leave and the waltzing backwoods folk Three Times Bent, from Toronto's Justin Rutledge.

She gets bluesy on Rest Of My Days, lover's revenge murder ballad Mary Mary and the swampy Southern groove of Riptide and ups the tempo for the slide and banjo picking of No More Rain, but to these ears it's the gentler, wistful bruised heart ballads that are the strongest. The undulating Here We Go Again distils the uncertainty of entering into a new romance while still picking up the pieces of the last, Just For The Ride brings a jangle and twang to a yearning for the innocence of young love unaware of the hurt ahead while the album's final three numbers, the London set Somewhere A Lovely Flower, Off This Train and, conjuring memories of Kathy Mattea, Lilacs Dancing move from the search for self and happiness to a memory of being found.

It's not a groundbreaker, but her laid-back acceptance and honest delivery will make heartbreak's twilight hours easier to bear. Seems a fair way of describing the Ottowa native's album of Americana and a soulfully warm voice that's drawn comparisons with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Gillian Welch. With instrumentation built around acoustic guitar, dobro fine picking by Chris Barkely , pedal steel, upright bass and stripped down percussion, Hanson fluidly moves her musical moods between twangy roots country Eleven Months , rustic American folk Dance In The Evermore , bluegrass Cold Touch and country blues Willow Tree' revisiting of murder ballad Pretty Polly , all sounding equally assured whether she's standing tough or hiding vulnerability.

Love, life, mortality, religion and, on Tears In Your Rain, environmental concerns provide the subject matter and, if she's not rewriting any thematic concerns, she does find the human heart in the stories she tells.

And if there's no single career making standout, the lovely sadness of Seeking Juliet and More Of The Same and a gravel gritty Nazareth Bound will certainly ensure her name gets mentioned in the right places. Out of Ottawa sporting comparisons to Gillian Welch and Mary Chapin Carpenter, Hanson recently picked up a Canadian Blues award for River By My Side which she didn't actually write but while the blues also puts in appearance on the commitment-fearing Little Stage Fright it's her Americana and Texas soul-country moods that really flavour this debut album.

Recorded with unfussy production and unshowy playing that gives it a live feel, her songs are a mix of well observed snapshots and seemingly more personal reflections on relationships that have slipped or are slipping away, ranging from the aching Different Story where a couple meet at a barroom to sign the divorce papers and the lost dreams detailed with a finely observant eye on the twangy title track to the regrets of the backwoods country-folk Fell Down A Wishing Well one of several featuring Lynn Miles on backing vocals and the comfort and healing to the lilting, pedal steel laced Just A Day Away.

Fine though it is, I'm not convinced that the album really needs her cover of the traditional gospel folk tune Wayfaring Stranger, a song that may have a thematic connection of sorts but feels as though it's strayed in from a live set list.

That said, the fact that a song that's weathered the years as well as it has can be overshadowed by Hanson's own material, says as much for her songwriting credentials as the album does for her singing. Even so, as a talented Gothenburg-born multi-instrumentalist and prog-rock genius, Bo is certainly best remembered today for his first solo release, Music Inspired By Lord Of The Rings , which the Famous Charisma Label took high into the album charts back in That album was reissued last year by Virgin, and now it's the turn of the three remaining solo albums which originally appeared on Charisma in the UK to appear in digitally remastered new editions.

Watership Down' s bonus track is an eleven-minute live-in-the-studio Migration Suite. Sadly, and unusually for such reissues, the booklet notes don't give us any information regarding the sources of the bonus material. The downside of this is that some of Bo's musical ideas and themes don't quite achieve the memorability quotient that they need to stand out in a competitive prog marketplace, and whilst one can admire his versatility and creativity some of the later music, particularly on Watership Down , has a tendency to ramble and in the end leaves me a touch cold.

The Watership Down album continued to explore the wave of inspiration that had begun with Attic Thoughts' Rabbit Music, and Bo utilised his musical collaborators to good effect, but in truth it was a more uneven effort musically, and by the time of its release distinctly unfashionable.

But these reissues at least give us the chance to reassess Bo's place in prog history, and I find that I can certainly appreciate them a lot more now than I did at the time of their original release. From Cork and now based in Glasgow, Hara's very much in the tradition of the classic acoustic singer-songwriter, a deft string picker, a voice with a slight emotional crack and songs that slide down easy but also hang around to get you pondering their relationships themed lyrics.

It's not about to make him the next darling of the modern folkie set, but numbers like the circling melody of Bribe, the fresh open fields air to Nothing New, What Will Lie In Wait where he actually conjures thoughts of Ian Matthews and the clear stream waterfall colours sparkling across Blue Heart of Mine and The Light will always ensure a welcome on the folk club and pub circuit.

Coming together as a three piece house band for a regular event at St Pauls Church in Derby and gradually evolving into their current sextet format, they've largely spent their career to date on the Christian music circuit, releasing debut album Leaving Safe Anchorage last year.

However, given the exposure, their sophomore should easily see them expanding their audience into the contemporary folk-rock mainstream. Fronted by the striking, dust and silk vocals of Bethan Court, obvious comparisons would have to include Fleetwood Mac, Kate Rusby, and Sandy Denny but you might also hear hints of Judy Collins and Eva Cassidy in there too.

Listening to her on the gently rippling autumnal Another Rainbow or the world weary Sweet Hand of Mercy is a bit like bathing in aural Radox, the soothing sound of late summer evenings and fireflies. The band's other prime strength lies in the songs of Phil Baggaley, sometimes quietly melancholic at others shimmering with a sense of joy and determination; wistfully veined with themes of loss and stalled emotions on Watching It Slip Away, Mayday and the wonderful waltzing title track or celebrating the redemptive nature of love on the tumbling folk pop of Five Senses and the simple wonder of the universe in Stargazing.

There's times when he calls to mind Julie Gold. Having said that, two numbers hark to traditional English folk ballad. The Storm Gate is tale of a Whitby boy sailing with Captain Cook while his intended waits at home, verses sung by both the lovers and the lad's sister. And, arguably the album's standout track, Gunmetal Grey is a brooding warning not to harden your heart that, with its steady drum beat, electric guitar and the edge Court brings to her singing, would add lustre to a Steeleye Span album.

These two highly regarded young musicians originally met as teenagers, but only last summer, while teaching at the Folkworks Summer School, did they consider doing some actual duo work together. And by all accounts, so naturally did the two gel that after just a couple of days of playing this CD emerged! Meantime, Rob's continued his involvement with the English Acoustic Collective and Emma's been teaching and performing both in the UK and her motherland Sweden.

This disc turns out to be an intensely uplifting experience that fully conveys the joys of informal music-making. The majority of its ten tracks are duets for English concertina and fiddle: The CD also showcases two descriptive pieces by the musicians themselves: All told, this is a genuinely exciting disc which it'll prove hard to grow tired of, for with each twist and turn of melody Rob finds felicitous subtleties in his chosen instrument and Emma's joyous, earthy phrasing springs new surprises.

Rob's also responsible for the superbly immediate and close recording. To vary things a bit, Ghost Writer turns in four minutes worth of discordant, clanking beatnik jazz Tom Waits with a sprinkle of Bowie, but opening proceedings with the gentle summery sway of Bittersweetheart for the most part he again favours the dreamier side of melody in which to couch his songs of love and loss, of death and, well, life really.

Mercifully for the Samaritans then, the lad does manage to curl a couple of more positive moments round his fingers, Watching The Sun Come Up is a buoyant post break up song but still sees Ed ready to "attack the day with the will to burn" and on the gorgeous lullaby Metaphorically Yours with its crooning ooohing backing vocals, he sings "if my wrists were slit you'd bandage them with style and grace", adding "I confess I love you so.

This is an unusually distinctive album by a British band based in Berkshire that is unafraid to take chances and diversify within the broad compass of Americana.

Sure, it's got its own oddball tendencies, but for most of its length it's a reliable and intriguingly different album on which influences are less worn on the sleeve than sewn away neatly in the cuff. It would be considered an interesting album purely because every track's different, but the consistent quality of the songwriting transcends any novelty-value and the occasional quirk of presentation. Pete clearly feels for his protagonists and translates this concern into the settings and the expression he brings to the lyrics: I could live without the gimmicky distancing and scratching effects given to the vocals at times, but in the end these probably don't intrude seriously enough to spoil my appreciation of atmospheric songs like Are Those Really The Miles?

This new collection intersperses telling and ingenious treatments of traditional material more Songs Lost And Stolen, you might say with some stylistically-diverse songs of her own composition. These all take their cue in some measure from the concept of Battleplan, an ideal state of affairs which is almost never achieved.

Bella's interpretive creativity achieves a new level with the challenge this presents; she not only plausibly re-imagines traditional ballads from a female perspective, but also brings her own personal experiences into the mix; notwithstanding the fact that some of the traditional songs have already been subjected to countless reinterpretations down the ages.

The devilish momentum of Whisky You're The Devil forces piano and drums together in almost unholy counterpoint to Bella's rewritten tune, and a pounding drone-heavy beat permeates the fiddle-sing of Through Lonesome Woods.

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