Conversations with Kate Rusby (3)
Treasure chest

The year so far (3)

If you are familiar with Salut! Live, you will know that I occasionally bring readers up to date on albums I have reviewed for the Daily Telegraph. This is the third such posting on releases in 2007 so far.

One of the true finds of my year has been the Outside Track, a multi-national young band whose members share a passion for Irish music and met while studying at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick.

An interview with Norah Rendell, seen on the left in the photograph, the band's Vancouver-born singer and whistle player, will appear here soon.

For now, see extracts of what I had to say about the Outside Track, Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, Wolfstone, the Tannahill Weavers, Steve Knightley, Simon Mayor and the Mandolinquents, Gráda, Martin Simpson, Maggie Holland, Jenna, Chris and Kellie While, Sharon Shannon, Linda Thompson and the Imagined Village.

Wherever possible, featured albums will be available at low prices on my record shelf down the right hand column.

June 9 Wolfstone Terra Firma (Once Bitten Records)

Tannahill Weavers Live and in Session (Compass)

In a classic case of having it both ways, Wolfstone describe themselves as a Highlands rock band who happen to use pipes, whistles and fiddles. As needs arise, the folk influence can accordingly be acknowledged, or dismissed as just another performance tool. This works for listeners in their thousands, while occasionally leaving a few of us cold. Nevertheless, Terra Firma overcomes reservations more fully than past albums. There is a warmer feel to fellow Scots the Tannahill Weavers captured live.....the harmonies are so addictive, the ancient songs and tunes presented with such enthusiasm that theirs is truly a hard album to dislike.

June 16 Steve Knightley Cruel River (Hands On Music)

Steve Knightley offers powerful reminders of the bleak, often angry thoughts dominating his songwriting. Tony Blair is a "crooked man with a crooked smile" as Knightley reworks 2004 lyrics to express more deeply his disgust over Iraq. In an equally harsh tone, British foreign policy is tied in with heroin misery in Poppy Day.
And don't expect cream teas in Knightley's West Country. Instead we hear of rural villains, tell-tale sailors and a farmhand beaten up for canoodling with the boss's daughter......good songs sung well.......the rare romance of Tout Va Bien perhaps hints at a writer shy of seeming soppy in his own language.

June 30 Simon Mayor and the Mandolinquents Dance of the Comedians (Acoustics)

There are times when the sophistication of Hilary James's singing raises the question of how on earth she ended up on the fringes of folk music. Working with Simon Mayor, an amusing, gifted musician and tireless champion of the mandolin, her vocal contributions may occasionally be overlooked or seen as a cultural novelty.....the charm and texture of her soprano stand out.....if the test for any live album is whether it makes you wish you had been present, this sails through with distinction.

July 7 Gráda Cloudy Day Navigation (Compass)

From the opening lines of Sonny Condell's compelling song of emigration, Cooler at the Edge, the importance to Gráda of Nicola Joyce's captivating vocals is beyond question.
The men in the band add flair with their instrumental work...but without her interpretations of a well-chosen clutch of songs, this would be a rather less memorable body of work
July 14 Martin Simpson Prodigal Son (Topic,)

Prodigal Son is dedicated to his long-dead father, and a mother who died this year. An affectionate but painfully honest song about Simpson senior would be a classic even without Kate Rusby's lilting harmony vocals. A blues written for slide guitar as his mother neared death is magnificent. Simpson adds an engaging song about finding love with a much younger woman, and two tracks about their infant daughter. Amid all this familiarity, irresistible Americana rubs shoulders with traditional British ballads of extraordinary depth and beauty. Talk of folk album of the year may be premature, but only just.

July 21 Maggie Holland Bones (Weekend Beatnik)

She relies on the voice that came from her Hampshire upbringing, adding no audible decoration.
Simon Cowell would despair, but then he will rarely encounter such songs as Perfumes of Arabia, Holland's angry response to war news from Iraq, or A Proper Sort of Gardener, a moving tribute to a man whose green fingers and heart of gold lit up her childhood.
Bones is a long, mostly retrospective study, delivered in the understated fashion that allows Holland's words, stimulating and often uncomfortable, to breathe.... while Holland may not be music's most prolific writer, it is her own songs - and those of Billy Bragg among kindred souls - that most suit her attractive and peculiarly English style.

Aug 4 The Outside Track The Outside Track (Bedspring Music)

With a hint of coals-to-Newcastle audacity, five talented young musicians band together to produce a session of Irish traditional music, ignoring the thin spread of their Irishness.
While all studied at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick, only one - Alan Jordan - is a native. The rest hail from Vancouver, Derbyshire, Edinburgh and the Highlands.....but the results are close to being as good as Irish music currently gets.
Norah Rendell, the Canadian, takes most lead vocals with calm authority...the unlikely mix has yielded a heartening debut, stirring hope that the band will triumph over the inconvenience of disparate origins to build on their rich promise.

Aug 11 Kate Rusby Awkward Annie (Pure)

Listening to Kate Rusby's lovely new album, it occurred to me that she's England's answer to Dolly Parton.....this album doesn't plough any new musical terrain for Rusby, mixing traditional tales and original songs of speckled hens, muddy petticoats, lost loves, bitter boys, bereavements and sighs "fullsore". Sprightly guitars and banjo take turns with a mournful piano as Rusby's familiar Yorkshire-accented voice trembles, pure, plaintive and gently saturating as morning dew. (written by Helen Brown)

Aug 11 Chris and Kellie While Too Few Songs (Fat Cat Records)

As an accomplished, much-borrowed songwriter, Chris While has ample material of her own to record. For her second album with daughter Kellie, she prefers the work of others.....yet each song remains a showcase for the delicate, complementary powers of expression of two expert vocalists, truly living up to the "more like sisters" description of one admirer, Ralph McTell.

Aug 18 Jenna Barefoot and Eager (Hands On Music)

The Beach Boys had California. Beach girl Jenna has north Devon, and draws similar inspiration from summer and surfing. At 19, she also has staggering maturity. That would be the case even if she had written the songs only for her debut album. But one song, the charming I Was a Dreamer, dates from when she was barely into her teens.......Steve Knightley, from Show of Hands, produces admirably. Yet in truth, he was working with someone whose natural gifts are so abundant that if she had recorded the album herself in the garden shed, it might still have ended up as an irresistible example of superior acoustic music.

Aug 25 Sharon Shannon Renegade (Daisy Records)

From her stints with the Waterboys and Arcady, Sharon Shannon has been a creative giant of Irish music. In her hands, the accordion sheds its uncool stigma........For Renegade, she adds the excellent Dezi Donnelly (fiddle), Michael McGoldrick (flute) and Jim Murray (guitar). The fans who keep Shannon in the Irish charts may find it starkly traditional: beyond the Celtic hip-hop of Got a Hold of Me, novelty is rare. Yet this is Irish music of the highest order and Shannon should not let Renegade come and go as quickly as her other escapades.

Sept 1 Linda Thompson Versatile Heart (Universal)

It is hard to believe that Linda Thompson still suffers from the rare condition of the larynx that silenced her as a singer for so long. What a shame her live work is limited, for these are gorgeous songs, sublimely delivered and stretching from folk through pop and country to contemporary English chanson.

Sept 1 Various Artists The Imagined Village (EMI)

........injects the ethnic variety of modern society into the British folk tradition. The line-up tells its own story: Martin and Eliza Carthy, but also Billy Bragg and Paul Weller, Sheila Chandra, Benjamin Zephaniah and Trans-Global Underground. The results are as heartwarming as they are artistically thrilling.

Sept 8 Rachel Unthank and The Winterset The Bairns (EMI/Rabble Rouser)

On a folk website, someone said recently that Geordie accents make even successful people "seem thick and skint". Fortunately for Rachel Unthank, and a magical new album that has the waters of Tyne dripping from it, many others believe the English language is enriched by its regional variations.
Few listening to Unthank or her younger sister Becky could mistake their origins. But what they sound is not stupid or necessarily broke but, by turns, passionate, defiant and angry.
It is tough going.......but the effort is repaid by a work of towering quality, the strings of the Northern Sinfonia adding to the intense beauty.


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