The year so far (1)
What's for desert, Christy?

The year so far (2)

Looking back over the past few months, I can say that 2007 has already produced some cracking albums, as I am sure Julie Fowlis (pictured) would agree.

Here is the second part of my compilation of the reviews, written by me, that appear most Saturdays in the Daily Telegraph.

And much good is still to come. While I certainly receive the odd album that only the artist's mother could love, most of my current listening - especially new CDs from Steve Knightley, Martin Simpson and Simon Mayor's Mandolinquents - is bringing a good deal of pleasure.

So do not stray too far - this is becoming, I hope, a fine place to be!

March 3 Athena: Breathe With Me (Embraceable)

She has an expressive, pleasing voice and writes intelligently, at times cynically, about life and love.
The songs have distinctive melodies, and it is hard to fault the arrangements....but to the listener who missed out on all the excitement as Athena slogged around Britain as an unknown, gathering audiences and admiration on the way, there is the nagging feeling that she is capable of far more memorable fare.

March 10 Ron Kavana: Irish Ways (Proper)

A boxed set of enormous substance and much charm. Solo or with a band, Kavana has produced exciting, moving and pertinent sounds; he is also a fine writer, Reconciliation being the equal of most songs inspired by the Troubles. This is a package with plenty to disprove each component of Chesterton's couplet: "All their wars are merry / And all their songs are sad."

March 17 Po'Girl: Home To You (Diesel Motor Records)

Not every fan of Vancouver's Po'Girl would instinctively welcome the introduction of a little sophistication. Simplicity is central to their appeal...... reassuringly, the slicker approach complements rather than smothers the essence of Po'Girl, a bunch of drifters who may want to sing of life on the road but have sufficient artistic clout to make it into something of value.

March 24 Julie Fowlis: Cuilidh (Shoeshine Records)

Few singers producing an album entirely in Gaelic could expect to reach anything but the smallest of audiences. Julie Fowlis, from the Outer Hebrides, rises to the challenge in style, turning a set of hypnotic old songs into implausibly accessible music that never seems old-fashioned...... It can only be a matter of time before one of Fowlis's less obvious inspirations, Madonna, herself something of a folk fan on the quiet, suggests making a record together.

March 31 June Tabor: Apples (Topic)

Further evidence of an inclination to challenge as much to please, revealing a woman at the top of her game but also illustrating why her appreciation society has always extended beyond where folk music ends. Dark, brooding ballads are offset by lighter songs with great tunes and instant appeal, all immaculately arranged and superbly sung.

OystersApril 7 Oysterband: Meet You There (Westpark)

Being probably the world's greatest folk-rock band carries unfair responsibility. Each new album is supposed to be not merely good, but great. Half a dozen hearings into Meet You There, the melodies seemed a shade too thin, the hooks and riffs commonplace.....then the quality came streaming into focus.....brilliant, angry phrases leapt from the lyrics and John Jones's reassuring lead vocals imposed authority......

April 14 Lau: Lightweights and Gentlemen (Reveal records)

If the rules of music are there to be broken, they are best broken by people who know what they are in the first place. The exceptional musicians who make up Lau - Martin Green, Kris Drever and Aidan O'Rourke - could settle for rattling off traditional jigs and reels with more authority than most.
Instead, they write their own sets. And the direction some of the tunes take is astounding, straightforward melodies and rhythms careering off into all manner of unfamiliar territory while technical brilliance keeps the sound the right side of cacophony.

April 28 Moishe's Bagel: Salt (Eachday Records)

An album of exotic dance music from a band that was formed in Scotland but draws heavily on klezmer and Balkan inspirations. Backgrounds as disparate as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Salsa Celtica rightly suggest solid virtuosity, and Phil Alexander's sparklingly original pieces are played with classical attention to detail as well as energy and pace. Small wonder that Moishe's Bagel are kicking up a fuss in live settings.

May 5 Lisa Knapp: Wild and Undaunted (Ear to the Ground)

Moments of genuine creativity on both Knapp's mature self-compositions and her imaginative arrangements of traditional songs. With her freshness and charm, and a voice of raw and delicate beauty, Knapp has more than enough star quality to make up for lost time.

May 12 James Keelaghan: A Few Simple Verses (Fellside)

James Keelaghan's style is direct and uncomplicated....there has been more striking treatment of some of the material; it is hardly Keelaghan's fault that Nic Jones's version of Farewell to the Gold is unlikely to be bettered. But with the distinctly non-traditional aid of broadband, the backing musicians include the world's finest Irish band, Danu, and one of the best folk duos, Nancy Fagan and James Kerr, adding spice to a work of unassuming quality.

May 19 Crooked Still: Shaken by a Low Sound (Signature Records)

Dark themes deceive. Crooked Still sound as if they are having great fun, dishing out souped-up bluegrass with infectious exuberance. There is nothing new about folk and roots bands adding cello. Caroline Lavelle was doing it years ago in De Dannan, though never with the prominence Rushad Eggleston enjoys here. His heavy riffs, even more than O'Donovan's husky vocals, garnish a delicious slice of Americana.

May 26 Jez Lowe: Jack Common's Anthem (Tantobie Records)

The routine view of Jez Lowe - that he is an unrivalled observer of north-eastern working-class life - is kind but incomplete. A profoundly impressive new album shows how much broader is the scope of his interests.......the North is never far away... but there are songs, too, inspired by Yeats and Heaney, and by the road, and their quality is consistently high. Lowe has earned the right to be counted among England's finest contemporary songwriters.


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