Archive: Recordings 2016

Ric Sanders Trio – Standin’ on the Corner | Album Review | Dotted Line | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.01.16

This album sounds for all intents and purposes like one made from a sense of fun; three blokes of a certain age recalling all those Ry Cooder LPs they devoured as kids.  Fronted by Vo Fletcher, who handles the lion’s share of vocal duties, demonstrates his guitar pickin’ credentials on such archive delights as the title cut, Jimmie Rodgers’ “Standin’ on the Corner”, Fred Neil’s “Green Green Rocky Road”, and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Louis Collins”.  The guitarist also borrows Duane Allman’s eternally pretty instrumental “Little Martha”, coupling it to the traditional “Poor Boy”, which also features Ric Sanders’ bluesy violin.  Of the trio, it sounds as though Ric is having the most fun as most listeners will no doubt expect, with his venturesome trademark bowing technique.  It’s all stompingly good fun, especially the trio’s bashing out of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”, included here as a bonus track, but the recording does whiff of the customary ‘faithful to the gig’ souvenir almost exclusively to accompany the trio on their tour.  I’m not sure this album is going to make any significant mark on the vast body of recorded British folk music, but as a toe-tapping stab at nostalgic Americana, the boys done good. 

The Rheingans Sisters – Already Home | Album Review | Rootbeat Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 02.01.16

Personally, for some inexplicable reason, I’m more impressed with an album cover if the artist is seen in his or her working environment, rather than getting all dolled up to the nines for the often unflattering if intentionally flattering glamour shot.  Rowan and Anna Rheingans are right there in the workshop where you can almost feel the wood, smell the lacquer, sense the very nuts and bolts of dad’s man cave, where all the instruments are actually built; there’s a sense of, you make ‘em dad and we’ll play ‘em.  Already Home is the Rheingans Sisters’ second stab of doing precisely that, a collection of a dozen songs and tunes that explore the sounds of Scandinavia and France.  There’s something so inherently earthy in the playing, a sense of rawness that we feel will never find its way to being sweet; real music from real hands making sense of the surroundings in which the music was made.  It’s not all traditional tune doodling though with Rowan showing her credentials as a songwriter with such delights as “Mackerel”. 

Krista Detor – Barely | Album Review | Tightrope Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 03.01.16

The name Krista Detor became more familiar over here in the UK after her involvement with Shrewsbury Festival’s Darwin Project, which saw Krista rub shoulders with UK folk stalwarts Chris Wood, Karine Polwart, Jez Lowe, Stu Hanna, Emily Smith and Rachael McShane, together with fellow American Mark Erelli.  Krista’s seventh album to date sees the Indiana-born singer-songwriter treating ten new songs to some sparse arrangements, which in turn bring the lyrical beauty of the songs to the fore.  In places, the songs demonstrate a remarkable sense of melody at work, such as on “Box of Clouds”, with some delicious, almost Beatles-like harmonies.  Collaborating throughout with partner David Weber, Krista further exercises her flair for collaboration with the first of two bonus songs under the heading of The Irish Sessions, featuring a duet with Mary Dillon on “The Coming Winter” before closing the album with the seasonal “Sweet Comes the Sound”, dedicated to the Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre in Co Down, which features a rather gorgeous and almost Joni Mitchell-esque Silent Night coda.

The Unthanks – Memory Box | Album Review | RabbleRouser | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 03.01.16

Northern Sky shares a similar time span as The Unthanks, or at least all the bands led by Rachel Unthank in all their ever changing glory.  Ten years ago Rachel Unthank and the Winterset released their debut full-length album Cruel Sister, which coincided with Northern Sky’s very first live review.  It’s easy to feel therefore, that we’ve been on a similar journey over these last ten years, during which Northern Sky has popped in and out of the band’s sphere every now and again, eager to jot down a few words of both encouragement and appreciation.  In timely fashion, all of this has been rewarded with the arrival of a beautiful box of treasures, handmade and lovingly presented as the Memory Box.  There’s an initial desire to keep the red string that holds the box together intact for as long as possible, to be stored away under the floorboards, hidden away to be found by future generations.  Then again, there’s an even more pressing desire to get the thing opened to see what’s inside.  Ten years ago, the original four-piece band known as Rachel Unthank and the Winterset, could be seen in the upstairs room of pubs, while people around the globe were still blissfully unaware of what was gradually about to happen to English folk song in subsequent years.  “What a strange name Unthank is” would be most people’s initial reaction.  Under sad circumstances, the original band fell apart on the eve of their hard-earned breakthrough, just as they received a nomination for the Mercury Prize for their second album The Bairns.  Friendships faltered, bitter tastes were tasted and hearts beat a little faster for a while until the storms calmed.  Yet there was a cast iron determination to continue and a new band was soon shaped in order to further explore these strange little folk songs and virtually forgotten contemporary gems.  After five critically acclaimed albums and three adventurous side projects, the Diversions releases, The Unthanks have become almost household names with their treatment of both contemporary and traditional material, together with one or two self-penned songs along the way.  The band’s repertoire rarely contains anything that you might consider ‘jolly’, yet their material, which ranges from the melancholy to the mournful, foreboding to funereal, still manages to fill the heart with joy.  How could anyone not take a deep breath and point one’s chest to the sky upon hearing the chorus of “Fareweel Regality” or the climax to the band’s undisputed ten-minute masterpiece “Mount the Air”?  The Memory Box delivers the same sort of joyous message with its carefully hand-crafted contents, it’s previously unheard music and its visual treats.  So what’s in our Pandora’s Box then, once the red bow has been untied?  The contents are removed with the same delicate handling as the contents were placed a few days before.  There’s a signed card with a serial number stamped on the inside, reminding the recipient of the uniqueness of their box.  There’s a couple of postcards designed by Natalie Rae Reid, together with a little packet of photographs of the band.  There’s a couple of A4 prints of original artwork by Natalie and Becky Unthank, together with three books; a songbook, a recipe book (Adrian McNally likes cooking probably as much – if not more – as music, football and life itself), and finally a songbook with a difference.  The ‘Unsung Book’ is a blank notebook, enclosed to encourage us recipients to write our own songs down.  The Memory Box also contains three discs; firstly a 70 minute CD of rarities, exclusive live tracks, demos and outtakes, the disc being the only item in the limited edition box that can be obtained separately.  There’s a 90 minute DVD, which includes a concert filmed at Newcastle City Hall during the band’s Mount The Air tour, together with some archive films of the band such as some footage from the Abbey Road studios, featuring Stef Connor during the Rachel Unthank & The Winterset days.  There’s a couple of beautifully filmed promos filmed at the desolate Horncliffe Mansion to accompany the band’s Shipyards project as well as one or two of the band’s own animated single videos.  Finally, a bit of vinyl, the next big thing I hear, which includes two seasonal songs, Chrissie Hynde’s “2000 Miles” and George Unthank’s “Tar Barrel in Dale”.  So plenty to get one’s teeth into, especially at this time of year when bound gifts are common place under the tree.  The fragility of this band’s music could not more perfectly be presented than in this utterly charming box of memories, memories to cherish for some time to come, while the band continue on their journey to bring to their expanding audience more enchanting music, more exciting projects and more live appearances throughout the world.

Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party – Old Adam | Album Review | Soundpost Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 04.01.16

The advance EP of the same name pretty much prepared us for what was to follow with this the third solo album by Yorkshire-born and based singer Fay Hield.  Together with The Hurricane Party (Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron, Roger Wiilson, Ben Nicholls, Toby Kearney), Fay traverses a wealth of traditional songs, each treated to a fine arrangement but with the focus very much on the singer’s distinctive voice.  Although the title suggests a theological theme, Fay is quick to confess that the nearest she gets to God is through her swearing.  The title song however does indeed paint a wry picture of the first man, who ‘never paid his tailor’s bill because he wore no clothes’, set to a tune by hubby Jon Boden.  Jon Boden guests on the album as does Martin Simpson, notably on “The Hornet and the Beetle”, a song heard on the Full English live shows, which stylistically ventures into Martin Carthy territory.  There’s playground songs here, such as “Green Gravel”, well-trodden ground in both “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” and “Jack Orion” and even Tom Waits ground, with a perfectly reasonable take on “The Briar and the Rose”.