Issue 5

Eli West – Tapered Point of Stone | Self Release

Eli West is perhaps best known for his work as part of a successful duo with Cahalen Morrison, whose fine dove-tailed musical empathy has impressed many an audience over the past few years and for good reason.  Here though, West goes it alone, albeit with a little help from an array of choice musicians, which includes Andrew Marlin and Clint Mullican on mandolin and bass respectively, both known for their work in Mandolin Orange, together with Christian Sedlemeyer (Jerry Douglas) on fiddle.  There’s also some cross continent pollination with Julie Fowlis lending her emotive voice to the show-stopping “I Know Your Wandering Heart”.  Recorded in 2020, just before the pandemic gate-crashed the party, Tapered Point of Stone is made up of thirteen songs and tunes, which opens with “Ginny’s Little Longhorn”, a fine uplifting instrumental and a showcase of musical dexterity.  As with much of this sort of bluegrass-related playing, there’s something joyful about the songs and tunes, with each of the musicians seemingly enjoying the collaborative experience.  Despite the impending darkness of the imminent lockdown just over a year ago, Eli West had his own personal darkness to deal with after losing his father, never a pleasant thing to have to go through, even in better times.  The songs and tunes on this album, have however helped the musician find a way through the grief, some of which is addressed in the title song “Tapered Point of Stone”.  Thoughts of his father and the family environment in which he grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which is the home to the Roosevelt elk, certainly comes over in the song – ‘The horns protrude in anger and beg to take my crown, meanwhile the fleece of grief slips off quite like a gown’.  There’s some fine interplay between the fiddle, banjo and mandolin throughout the album, especially on the instrumentals, which include “Cwtch”, “Twin Bridges” and “Johnny Wombat” amongst them, with West’s comforting vocal adding that all important flavour, especially on “Brick in the Road”, “The Hearth” and the gospel-tinged closer “Three Links of Chain”.  We hope it’s not too long before Eli can get out on the road with this superb set of songs and tunes.  

Brick in the Road and Ginny’s Little Longhorn are both included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Eli (second right) with friends at the Greystones in Sheffield in 2016.  Tom Wright, Cahalen Morrison, Martin Simpson, James Fagan, Sam Carter and Richard Hawley.

(Photo: Allan Wilkinson)

The winners of the 13th annual Songlines Music Awards have been announced in the Best Artist and Best Group categories as well as in five geographical categories: Africa & Middle East, Americas, Europe, Asia & Pacific and Fusion.  The winners of the Newcomer and World Pioneer awards will be announced at the Songlines Music Awards ceremony, details of which to be announced later in the year.  


Liraz and Ayom are included in the current edition of the Northern Sky Vaults radio show

“For over a dozen years the Songlines Music Awards have shone a spotlight on the best artists to be featured in Songlines,” says Jo Frost, Songlines editor.  “The list of this year’s winners includes several new names with debut albums, such as Ayom, Bab L’ Bluz and Siti Muharam, and music from Bosnia to Mongolia.  We’re thrilled to be championing these deserving winners and their music – many congratulations to them all.”

For further information, please visit 

With the biggest easing of COVID restrictions about to go ahead, and the roadmap out of lockdown on target, England’s most easterly folk festival, FOLKEAST, has confirmed it is on course to return this August – with weekend tickets now on sale.

“It is so exciting to be gearing up to getting artists and audience back together again, along with our great crew, volunteers and stall-holders. This year will clearly be different and we have had to make some difficult decisions in order to adapt to the ever-changing situation.”
Becky Marshall-Potter (Festival Organiser)

Weekend tickets are now on sale until June when daily tickets will be offered until August 13.
All tickets must be purchased in advance.

Tickets purchased for 2020 can be automatically carried over to this year and ticket costs are frozen at last year’s prices – a competitive £120 for a weekend adult ticket while a great offer sees free admission for children aged 11 and under.
There will also be a limited number of camping tickets available.

More information:

Melissa Carper – Daddy’s Country Gold | Mae Music | Review by Liam Wilkinson

It’s pretty clear that Melissa Carper has been raised on a healthy diet of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.  Within seconds of dropping the needle on Daddy’s Country Gold, the Arkansas singer songwriter’s latest solo release, that compelling fusion of jazz and old time country music starts to seep from the grooves of this delicious record.  You’d be forgiven for checking the date on the sleeve, especially when Carper’s voice breathes over the crackly and wonderfully relaxed backing with all the heartworn grace of the aforementioned Holiday.  Songs such as “Old Fashioned Gal” and the superb “I’m Musing You” throw the listener so far back that it seems almost impossible that they were recorded in 2020.  “I Almost Forgot About You” and “The Stars Are Aligned” each glow in a cosy amber light with startlingly more authenticity than similar releases from the likes of Norah Jones and Madeline Peyroux.  And once you’ve become accustomed to this nostalgic approach, you begin to wonder why music ever needed to evolve from a point which was, let’s face it, pretty darn perfect.

I’m Musing You is included in the Whistle Stop feature on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Maria Muldaur – Let’s Get Happy Together | Stony Plain

Throughout an impressive career in American roots music, Maria Muldaur has released over forty albums, almost continuously traversing a wide variety of styles, each one rooted in the very fabric of American music and culture.  The sound that the New Orleans-based street band Tuba Skinny makes seems to be very much where Maria finds her comfort zone, as her familiar voice decorates a music whose instrumentation alone paints a vivid picture of what this album is all about, namely Shaye Cohn on cornet, Todd Burdick on tuba, Barnabus Jones on trombone, Jason Lawrence on banjo, Craig Flory on clarinet, Greg Sherman and Max Bien-Kahn on guitars and Robin Rapuzzi on washboard.  Added to the instruments and the musicians that play them is the album’s title, Let’s Get Happy Together, which further exemplifies the fun to be had on this album, even before we press play.  Recorded at the Marigny Studios in New Orleans, the dozen songs and tunes lift the spirits from the start with a song originally performed by the Goofus Five back in the 1920s.  The joyful sound of “I Like You Best of All” introduces us to the band, with plenty of New Orleans-styled syncopated jazz interaction.  Paying tribute to such figures as Lil Hardin Armstrong, Irving Berlin,  the Boswell Sisters, Dorothy Lamour, Annette Henshaw and Sweet Pea Spivey, Maria pulls together some inspirational tunes that are created to stroke our emotions and stir our souls.  If Maria’s voice has a slight wobble in places, which comes with most who are still singing after fifty years in the business, then it’s that natural waver that makes this album sound so delightful. 

Be Your Natural Self is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Gnoss – The Light of the Moon | Blackfly Records

There’s a subtle confidence in the combined playing of this young Glasgow-based quartet that can be immediately felt on The Light of the Moon, the band’s second album release.  Formed in 2015 by Orcadians Aidan Moodie (guitar/vocal) and Graham Rorie (fiddle/mandolin/electric tenor guitar), who would later add to their line-up Connor Sinclair (whistles/flute/backing vocals) and Craig Baxter (bodhran/percussion), Gnoss take advantage of their combined musical chops to deliver a dozen original songs and tunes with the help and assistance of Skerryvore’s Scott Wood, who co-produced the album at his Oak Ridge Studios.  Predominantly instrumental, the album includes four new songs, each written by Moodie, whose slick vocal delivery seems to give the album its heart.  If the songs leap out as fine examples of contemporary song writing, then the instrumental tracks showcase the band’s ability to read into each other’s minds, to bring a solidly unified sound to each of the selections, which provides each musician the opportunity to shine, which they invariably do, with one or two of the numbers underpinned by Breabach’s James Lindsay on double bass.  You don’t have to wait around much for something special to come along on this album.

The River is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Comorian – We Are An Island, But We’re Not Alone | Glitterbeat

It’s more than just encouraging to find that here in the twenty-twenties, the spirit of John and Alan Lomax, Sam Charters, Charles Parker et al lives on, in this case in the bold endeavours of producer Ian Brennan, who takes six flights to the middle of nowhere in search of new voices and new music.  You have to take your magnifying glass out to find the Comoro Islands, which are situated just off the south-eastern coast of Africa with Mozambique to the west and Madagascar to the southeast.  The ten songs included here were recorded live with no overdubs for the Hidden Musics series by Brennan and feature Soubi, who plays the ndzendze and gambussi, Mmadi, who also plays the ndzendze and who both share lead vocals, together with D Alimze on Guma drum, who also adds background vocals.  The music is raw, often enchanting and almost certainly steeped in the traditions of the islands.      

Bandits Are Doing Bad Deeds is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Sarah-Jane Summers and Juhani Silvola – The Smoky Smirr O’ Rain | Eighth Nerve Audio

Each new album released by the Norway-based Scottish/Finnish duo of Sarah-Jane Summers and Juhani Silvola, always seems to bring enchantment, mood and inventiveness, without any need for words or verbal stories.  The stories are told through the music alone.  The Smoky Smirr O Rain is the duo’s third album to date and features eleven selections that investigate a variety of sonic textures through Sarah’s extraordinary fiddle playing and Juhani’s inspired guitar and piano performances.  Midway through the album, “Borrowed Days” brings much drama to the set, with an impressive conversation between the landscape and the birds that fly above, eerily capturing the essence of nature through the duo’s instruments alone.  There’s ancient heroic ballads, jigs and reels, polskas and some fine and moody airs and melodies to savour throughout the set.  Drawing from both traditional and contemporary music from the Highlands to the Fjords, Sarah and Juhani are once again impressive to the nth degree with their innovative textures and outstanding musical flair.

Borrowed Days is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Annie Keating – Bristol County Tides | Self Release

There’s been plenty of soul searching over the past twelve months or so, brought on by circumstances beyond our control, yet some of those among us with a creative bent have managed to get through it with some determination.  Singer-songwriter Annie Keating has taken this opportunity to write, record and deliver an album in lockdown, retreating to Bristol County, Massachusetts, where fifteen songs emerged with renewed energy and creativity.  “Half Mast” provides a glimpse into how lockdown feels; like a hurricane, a world falling apart, yet endured with human resilience and resolve.  Midway through, “Hank’s Saloon” offers a inebriated knees-up among the more sensitive material, a song to let one’s hair down to.  Describing the making of Bristol County Tides as ‘the greatest studio experience ever’, Annie dedicates the album to her mother for her continued support and also includes a song especially for her. “Doris” provides the album with its heart, a fine tribute to an 83 year-old, who still drives with one foot on the brake and one on the gas and who sips Johnny Walker Red, but probably not at the same time.  The album is quite punchy in places, which demonstrates the tightness of the band, certainly on such songs as “Lucky 13” and “Kindred Spirit”.  Working alongside such musicians as Teddy Kumpel (Joe Jackson, Rickie Lee Jones), Richard Hammond (Joan Osbourne, Patti Austin), Steve Williams (Sade, David Byrne) and Todd Caldwell (CSN, James Taylor), Annie has managed to follow John Prine’s adage, to stay vulnerable and in doing so, has created possibly a career best.  

Kindred Spirit is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Staran – Staran | Self Release

For the eponymous debut album by the newly formed Staran, Rura’s John Lowrie has brought together some of the finest of Scotland’s musicians currently working in both traditional and contemporary music.  Each of the musicians involved have already established themselves on the national music circuit and their names will be familiar to many; Innes White, James Lindsay, Jack Smedley and notably Gaelic singer Kim Carnie, whose vocal performances on such songs as “Dà Làimh sa Phìob” and “Horò gun Togainn air Hùgan Fhathast Thu” are nothing short of exemplary.  Instrumentally, the band tackle each selection with an assured confidence on both the sensitive and tender piano-led material, such as “Einbeck” and the first half of “Balcarres” as well as the more vibrant musical interplay of the more uptempo “Casino” and the lilting “Back to Glasgow”, each a show piece of inventive arrangement. The term ‘Staran’, roughly translates from the Gaelic to either path, trail or stepping stones, its theme reflecting time and place, especially now.  Closing the set, “Settle, Honey” features a fine vocal from Kim, this time delivered in English, bringing a soulful, almost gospel feel to the album, a fine closer, which should have audiences reaching for their smartphone torches once this war is over.

Horò gun Togainn air Hùgan Fhathast Thu is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Paul Handyside – Loveless Town | Malady Music

The former Hurrah! and Bronze singer-songwriter returns with another fine solo album, his fourth to date, following on from 2007’s Future’s Dream, 2013’s Wayward Son and the most recent, 2016’s Tide, Timber and Grain, each certainly worth a mention here.  Loveless Town consists of eleven self-penned originals, once again delivered in Handyside’s familiar country troubadour style, a little bit Willie Nelson, a little bit Buddy Holly, with a voice as strong as a determined Neil Diamond.  With some fine dobro accompaniment in places, courtesy of Rob Tickell, who has also produced, engineered and mixed the album, the songs lean in a country infused direction, following the country ballad tradition.  With further assistance from David Porthouse, who looks after the double bass, melodeon, banjo and percussion, the songs are treated to fine arrangements throughout, that range from the pacey “Not in My Name” to the soulful and anthemic “Only You”.  Reminding us of his Northumbrian roots, Handyside reflects on the 1862 colliery disaster in the moving “Hartley Pit Catastrophe”, his local dialect seeping in through the Americana cracks.

*** *** ***

Craig Cardiff – All This Time Running | True North Records

The distinctive voice of the Ottawa-based singer-songwriter Craig Cardiff permeates the eleven songs and additional six bonus tracks on All This Time Running, his first album of new material in six years and one the musician claims to be the most well-rounded of his career so far.  Leading with the album’s title song, “All This Time Running” is a fine opener that serves to peel off the lid of this collection of songs and a song that also serves to bring this musician full circle and back to his Canadian roots.  The songs are for the main part optimistic, with some positive major key melodies and joyful harmonies such as “Emm & May”, “Yellowknife” and the brass enhanced “Moon”.  Of the bonus material, Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up”, the only cover on the album, stands proud as a fine example of musical interpretation, although Kate Bush is conspicuous by her absence.  Would it have been too much for either of his fellow Ottowans Lynn Miles or Alanis Morrisette to deputise?  Joking aside, this is a fine interpretation with a good arrangement, complete with an uplifting build.  Good songs, well performed. 

*** *** ***

Scott Matthews – New Skin | Shedio Records

New Skin, the new album by the Ivor Novello Award-winning songwriter Scott Matthews is a study in mood, comprising ten original songs that tug at your sensory organs.  In places, Matthews’ voice is reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright in tone, notably his similar use of the extended syllable and its theatrical delivery, “Wait in the Car” and “Morning” for example, yet in other places, a more introspective performer you couldn’t imagine.  New Skin was created out of the inability to tour due to the inconvenience of lockdown, Matthews going on to allow his creative juices to flow in a more ambient and solitary setting, using the acoustic and electro tools at his disposal.  Though completely original, it’s not all totally new, in fact the dreamy “My Selfless Moon” was written right back at the start of his career around fifteen years ago, possibly waiting for an opportunity for a suitable airing.  Yes there are shades of Drake (Nick, not the Canadian rapper), Simon (Paul, not Carly) and Buckley (Jeff, not the family Beagle in the Royal Tenenbaums), but mostly it’s Scott Matthews in both body and soul.  This is really an album that needs time for its beauty to seep under your skin, new or otherwise.

*** *** ***

Anna Tam – Anchoress | Tam Records | Review by Marc Higgins

Folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Anna Tam, member of The Mediaeval Baebes and more recently Wilde Roses, has a remarkably pure and arresting voice.  On Anchoress she presents a set of traditional songs and two original pieces, accompanying herself on a range of appropriately traditional and historic instruments.  The album takes its name from the act of living in seclusion for religious reasons.  Anna spent much of the Pandemic presenting from her boat a series of video performances and felt like an Anchoress presenting folk music from the window of her cell. Tam’s approach is very much about delivering the songs pure and unadorned, letting the stories shine through.  Some like the beautiful “Braes of Balquhidder”,  a poem by Robert Tannahill that inspired the song “Wild Mountain Thyme” are delivered mostly solo with minimal accompaniment.  The plaintive stringed instrument on “The Unquiet Grave” perfectly compliments but never detracts from Anna’s rich vocal delivery.  “Jenny Nettles” is a dark dance of a piece with a Hurdy Gurdy adding intensity and a sense of time long passed.  As you’d expect given Tam’s time with the Mediaeval Baebes and Wilde Roses there is an Early Music or Mediaeval flavour to her delivery of traditional material like “Tarry Trousers”. “Whittingham Fair” is from an 1880 collection with instantly recognisable words and time, given our familiarity Anna puts her own stamp on the song, bringing  an emotional intensity and using  interesting arrangement with the rhythmic Viola de Gamba.  With a rawer sounding nyckelharpa and Roy Chilton’s banjo, “Elsie Marley” is very folky, but Anna’s vocal and pacing is breath-taking and unexpected.  “If I Were A Blackbird” is that classic tale of love and disapproving potential I laws.  Tam veers between sadness and passionate venom in her delivery, adding real menace to the words.  “Fairy Boat Hornpipe” is a breakneck and passionate tune played on the cello, Anna confesses it may well be within the folk tradition and an unconscious channelling of half remembered traditional tunes.  “Fear A’ Bhata” is a Scottish Gaelic song written in the 1700’s by a school teacher.  The song, stunningly sung tells of her sorrow at her separation from her fisherman lover. There is real power in Tam’s voice and her accompaniment on the Swedish Nyckelharpa.  Anna Tam’s version of “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” is an album highlight, both the potent unaccompanied opening and the accompanied body of the song are a delight.  Delightful too is Anna’s considered solo voice version of “She Moves Through The Fair”.  “Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk” is a savagely brutal tale of domestic violence, the disquieting Nyckelharpa and Anna’s emotional voice contemplate a dark revenge. ”The Goblet” named for a gift from the fiddler Geoffrey Irwin, is a wonderful duet between Irwin’s fiddle and Tam’s Nyckelharpa, an ancient and classical sounding closer.  The cover and packaging on the album has Tam on a very folky looking beach, surrounded by nets and weathered wood.  The album is stately and contemplative with that sense of mystical isolation that flowed through Dead Can Dance, 60s Quasi Mediaeval raga players The Third Ear Band and Lisa Gerrard’s music, as we are given glimpses of otherworldliness through tales of lost love, forbidden love, dead love and supernatural visitations.  In both content and delivery this album is a balm in troubled times and capable of raising the hairs on the back of your neck.  A perfect potent listen for a May day.

The Goblet is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Cave States – Julie Says | Self Release

This three-track EP by Cave States, the St Louis, Missouri-based indie band, leads with “Julie Says”, Danny Kathriner’s contemporary song of failed friendships (names changed to protect.. etc.).  Semi-autobiographical at its core, the song tells of a breakdown in a relationship, a tale of two peas in a pod, where presumably the pod is too small for the both of them.   The band, formed by Kathriner, Chris Grabau and Todd Schnitzer, flexes its musical muscles here, with a much fuller sound than in the band’s previous, more minimalistic work, notably in the infectious drum and hand clap syncopation, with just the slightest sprinkling of an acoustic guitar among the piano and scattered sampling and electronica.  Also included on the EP is the richly orchestrated “Time for Telling” and the country-inflected “Gone Are The New Days”, all three songs recorded and mixed at Todd Schnitzer’s Popscreen Studios. 

Twelfth Day – Fact of Life | Orange Feather Records

The two classically trained musicians that make up Twelfth Day, violinist Catriona Price and harpist Esther Swift, have now been fascinating audiences with their special music for over a decade, both through their initial EP and their subsequent three full-length albums, as well as through their many live appearances.  The ethereal sound that this duo so effortlessly make, through their breathy voices and delicate playing, continues to create a stirring effect with their latest single “Fact of Life”, which compels us to listen with a discerning ear.  Lyrically, the song takes a look at our own generational past as exemplified by the cover illustration by Tom Swift, where age and time is captured in a haunting melody, which appears to hover in the ether.  A magical record.     

Fact of Life is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Justin Bernasconi – Blank Page | Self Release

Most writers, poets, songsmiths and dare I say, music reviewers, occasionally suffer from what is commonly referred to as ‘writer’s block’ and many writers have written about just that when stuck for something/anything to say.  Songwriter Tom Robinson once said at a writer’s workshop at the Cambridge Folk Festival, which this songwriter could very well have attended, that if you wake in the morning and can’t think of anything to write, then take a pencil and a piece of paper and write ‘I can’t think of anything to write’.  It’s a start and it will lead to something more creative.  The Cambridgeshire-born, now Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Justin Bernasconi, writes about the dreaded blank page in this new single, which starts ‘here I go again..’, as if he’s been there several times before.  With Justin Olson’s drums fuelling the momentum, peppered with Anita Hillman’s cello and Ben Franz on double bass, together with Bernasconi’s assured finger-picked guitar, “Blank Page” maintains a tangible tension through to the end.  The single also includes a bonus ‘b side’, “Flags Staked Upon This Hill”, a song that addresses the breakdown of a relationship.

Blank Page is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Chris Cleverley – The Arrows and the Armour | Opiate Records

Chris Cleverley claims that this song is an anti-love song, a song that looks deeper into the modern psyche, with a clear awareness of our everyday anxieties and concerns.  Addressed to some unidentified ‘Gods’ (plural), this epistolary song pleads for a less severe arrow next time, something that might cause less distress, in a way addressing mental health issues, something Chris is deeply involved with.  As the second single release from his acclaimed album We Sat Back and Watched it Unfold, the song seems to have further resonance these days, in the thick of a world pandemic, and endeavours to look at a broader picture when it comes to matters of the heart.  Produced by Sam Kelly and featuring such contemporary folk luminaries as Jamie Francis, Evan Carson, Lukas Drinkwater and notably Katie Stevens, whose whistle solo brings a Celtic flavour to the song, “The Arrows and the Armour” has an uplifting feel and bounces with soaring energy throughout, culminating in a fine vocal coda, courtesy of Chris, together with Kim Lowings and Kathy Pilkinton.

The Arrows and the Armour is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Mister Peculiar – Things I’ll Never Learn | Self Release

With a decade of music making now behind him, this singer, songwriter and guitar player known as Mister Peculiar releases a new single, which joins a small body of work that already includes two full-length albums and a couple of EPs.  Very much used to working with a series of bands and enjoying a number of collaborations with others, Mister Peculiar then began working as a solo artist, which continues with this latest single “Things I’ll Never Learn”, which is the first single from his yet to be released third album, a gentle acoustic driven performance delivered in a gentle growl reminiscent of Steve Earle or Shane MacGowan, a reflection on life, on the past, and possibly on the future, but with a bottle of wine nearby.  Joining Mister Peculiar, who also plays a tasty acoustic guitar solo midway through, is Felix Matozza on bass, Vincenzo Matozza on percussion and Laura Tibaldi providing some empathetic backing vocals.  

Things I’ll Never Learn is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Jack Badcock – Penny Sweets | Self Release

“Penny Sweets” is the third single release from Jack Badcock’s five-track EP The Driftwood Project and reflects on the songwriter’s earlier days, reminiscences of traveling around the world to such places as Viet Nam, when living for the moment was paramount.  The Dallahan founder finds his sensitive side here and delivers the song in a style reminiscent of the sleepy gentleness of a Nick Drake song, with a crisp and clear finger-picked guitar style, its ethereal quality enhanced by sweeping strings and the occasional confident falsetto.  Hannah Rarity offers some haunting breathy harmonies, while the string quartet, made up of Seonaid Aitken and Benedict Morris on first and second violin respectively, together with Patsy Reid on viola and Su-a Lee on cello, wraps its respective musical chops around the arrangement like a warm duvet.  Recorded by Pablo Lafuente at Gran’s House Studio, “Penny Sweets” stands as a delicate and gentle song that works as a stand alone track or indeed played on repeat.

Penny Sweets is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Lloyd Price (1933-2021)

Famously known as ‘Mr Personality’, the Louisiana-born R&B singer, songwriter, bandleader, entrepreneur and record executive created some of the most memorable songs of the early rock and roll era, including “Personality”, the 1959 million-selling hit from which his nickname derived, though “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” was his first million seller on the Specialty label seven year earlier.  This alone marked him as the first American teenager to sell a million.  Since then, his records have been covered by an array of notable performers, a list that includes Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, James Brown, The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac and Amy Winehouse among many others.  Lloyd Price was also heavily involved in sport and was the first (in association with Don King) to stage a world-wide, pay to view sports event and was involved in changing the way professional athletes were compensated through the ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ boxing event between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, each fighter receiving an unprecedented five million dollars.  Lloyd died as a result of complications from diabetes on 3 May in New Rochelle, New York.  He was 88.

Tom Russell at The Ropewalk, Barton upon Humber in 2010

Judy Collins at The Duchess in York in 2010

36. Sam Chatmon – Sam Chatmon’s Advice | Rounder 2018 – 1979

I remember exactly when I first became aware of the Mississippi Delta bluesman Sam Chatmon.  It was in the late 1970s, when Alexis Korner introduced The Devil’s Music, a TV series that investigated the story of the blues, with Sam Chatmon being one of the featured performers.  Well into his seventies at the time of broadcast, the bearded singer, who in his early career performed with his family band The Chatman Brothers as well as The Mississippi Sheiks, performed one or two songs from his home in the Mississippi Delta, revealing a new and exciting world of rural blues that I was up until that point completely unaware of.  Alexis Korner played more of Sam’s songs from the LP Sam Chatmon’s Advice on his Sunday evening radio show, including “Let the Good Times Roll”, “That’s Alright” and “Good Eating Meat”, which prompted me to go out and find this LP.  Blues LPs of this nature were still difficult to come by at the time but fortunately, there was a copy in my local library, which I borrowed and kept with me for a while, cranking up a few fines in the process.  Sam died shortly afterwards in 1983 and there’s a headstone memorial to Chatmon in Sanders Memorial Cemetery in Hollandale, Mississippi, which was paid for by Bonnie Raitt with the inscription, ‘Sitting on Top of the World’.

*** *** ***

37. Gram Parsons – GP | Reprise K4422 – 1973

The first time I heard Gram Parsons was probably while he was still with The Byrds, way back in the days when I would pop by Doncaster market to browse the stall that sold singles in the late 1960s.  I distinctly recall sifting through piles of ex-jukebox 45s and coming across “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” by The Byrds on the CBS label.  As with many bands of the era, my understanding of them developed once I obtained my 1971 copy of Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopaedia, which became my own personal music bible.  This led me to the further discovery of The Flying Burrito Brothers, though Gram Parsons as a solo artist hadn’t yet been listed.  Once I’d absorbed the Flying Burrito back catalogue, I became impressed with Parsons not only as a singer, but also as an artist responsible for making Country Music cool once again.  The Nudie suits worn by the likes of Porter Waggoner, were redesigned to include Marijuana leaves rather than Waggoner’s Wagon Trains and Cactus plants.  GP was Gram’s debut solo LP, recorded in Hollywood and released in 1973, for which he surrounded himself with some major players on the country music scene such as James Burton, Byron Berline, Al Perkins and of course, Emmylou Harris.  You only have to listen to “Streets of Baltimore”, “She” and “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes in the Morning”, to become hopelessly hooked.

*** *** ***

38. Woodstock Mountains – More Music From Mud Acres | Rounder 3018 – 1977

I didn’t get to the Cambridge Folk Festival the year that the Woodstock Mountain Revue appeared there, an informal affiliation of folk-based musicians from the Woodstock area of New York, who apparently stole the show.  This LP followed the collective’s debut album released a few years earlier under the title of Mud Acres: Music Among Friends, which was recorded back in 1972.  More Music From Mud Acres was introduced to me by an old friend who attended this particular festival in 1979, which was also the year that Ry Cooder famously played his acoustic solo set.  Credited to Woodstock Mountains rather than The Woodstock Mountain Revue, this second helping featured Happy and Artie Traum, John Herald, Jim Rooney, Bill Keith and Roly Salley, plus many more.  The highlights were many, but we can start with Artie Traum’s “Cold Front” and “Barbed Wire”, John Sebastian’s reading of the traditional “Morning Blues” and Roly Salley’s “Killing the Blues”, a song later covered by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss for their collaborative Raising Sand album.  That same old friend also brought back from the festival a copy of the official poster, one of those made in the days when posters were works of considerable artistic merit and it was a constant reminder of what a good year I missed every time I visited the house, not only having missed the Woodstock Mountain Revue and Ry Cooder, but also Doc Watson, Loudon Wainwright III and Rockin’ Dopsie and the Cajun Twisters and all for a mere £7.50.

*** *** ***

39. Loudon Wainwright III – Album II | Atlantic 2400 142 – 1971

A chap called Stu Morton introduced me to the songs of Loudon Wainwright III at a late night party in the early 1970s and I immediately became a fan.  It was completely different to the rock music I was into at the time and the songs gave me something to think about.  I didn’t realise that you could put an album out with just a mug shot on the cover, no smiles, no glamour, just the guy next door.  It may have had something to do with the mixture of humour, irreverence and that inimitable sneer that I would become more familiar with over time that attracted me to this performer.  While “Me and My Friend the Cat” provided the sneer, “Motel Blues” provided the beauty, despite its dodgy subject matter.  In the early 1970s I used to make a note of the date of purchase on the inner sleeve, certainly for the first couple of dozen LPs that I bought and this one clearly states ‘73.  I know I heard the album earlier, but maybe I had to wait until I got a job before I could buy my own copy, which would have been two years after the album’s initial release.  The LP also led to the discovery of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, John Prine, Steve Forbert and a host of others.

*** *** ***

40. Lou Reed and John Cale – Songs For Drella | Sire 7599-26140-1 – 1990

I came to Songs for Drella through the accompanying film, recorded in the intimate setting of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with no audience in attendance.  Lou Reed and John Cale perform the songs face to face with infrequent glances to one another and hardly a smile.  Three years after the death of pop artist Andy Warhol, the former Velvet Underground band mates reunited for this song cycle project, both reflecting on the life of their friend and former mentor, producer and manager.  The abrasive pair hadn’t spoken to one another for years until meeting up once again at Warhol’s memorial service in 1987.  After a suggestion by the painter Julian Schnabel, the two began working on these highly personal songs, including “Open House”, “Style it Takes”, “It Wasn’t Me” and Cale’s moving poem “A Dream”.  The name Drella, a mixture of Dracula and Cinderella, was never completely adopted by Warhol himself, though many of his friends used it as an affectionate nickname.  After this collaboration Reed and Cale vowed never to work together again, then surprisingly reformed Velvet Underground shortly afterwards, after which, the two musicians retook their vows and didn’t work together again.   Looking back at this album and the film in particular, it’s remarkable how youthful they both looked at the beginning of the 1990s.

36. Tommy James and the Shondells – Mony Mony | Major Minor D469 – 1968

It wasn’t so much the smell of toffee apples and candyfloss that drew me to the fair along Sandford Road, nor was it the tempting sizzle of the hot dogs and burgers on the hot plate.  I confess, it may have been the girls or perhaps even one or two of the rides, notably the waltzers and the speedway, but I have a strong feeling after all these years, that it might have been something else, even for an eleven year street urchin.  It was the loud pop music that they played as the waltzes spun and the speedway rotated and the dodgems crashed.  Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Mony Mony” created the greatest impression as steady beat and hand claps built to the song’s infectious chorus, perfectly complemented by the swirling colours of the painted rides and inviting smells of the aforementioned culinary delicacies.  “Mony Mony” was later covered by Billy Idol who attempted to inject some energy into the song while simultaneously taking all of the energy out.

*** *** ***

37. The Byrds – Chestnut Mare | CBS 5322 – 1971

There was a man who ran a stall on Doncaster Market in the late 1960s, who sold exclusively 45rpm singles, usually good quality second hand records or ex-jukebox singles with the middles punched out, all of which occupied several small cardboard boxes along three lengthy tables, to form a square, which placed the owner right in the middle, always alert to either the rain or the sun, both of which threatened the safety of his treasured stock.  I bought many records from this stall and was always on the look out for affordable rock gems.  On this stall, I remember seeing what could almost constitute an abundance of records by the Byrds, including this one, which he always seemed to have several copies at any given time.  I think I actually bought “Chestnut Mare” simply due to the record turning up so many times during each browse.  Written by founder member Roger McGuinn along with Jacques Levy for a stage musical that didn’t actually come to fruition, “Chestnut Mare” features spoken word passages and an infectious chorus, with a longer version included on the band’s 1970 album Untitled.

*** *** ***

38. Paul McCartney – Another Day | Apple R5889 – 1971

Probably my favourite of all the post-Beatles singles.  “Another Day”, credited to ‘Mr and Mrs McCartney, was recorded around the same time as Paul and Linda’s first album together, Ram in New York back in 1971, but wasn’t included on the album, but was released as a single instead, much in the same manner as many of his former band’s single releases.  The song has McCartney written all over it; everyday events such as taking a morning bath, drying off, slipping into stockings, dipping into shoes etc., and all to a fine McCartney standard melody.  Similar in feel to the middle section of “A Day in the Life”, with its breathless first person narrative of running for the bus being replaced by the third person dreariness of the office environment, while our heroine dreams of her ideal partner coming along to whisk her away at any given moment, or at least in her daydream that is.  It’s just a brilliant and simple song that never grows old or tired.

*** *** ***

39. Isaac Hayes – Them From Shaft | Stax STXS2010 – 1971

I first became aware of Isaac Hayes when I came across a second hand copy of his third LP The Isaac Hayes Movement, which features just four tracks, two of them coming in at just under twelve minutes, George Harrison’s “Something” and Jerry and Bill Butler’s “I Stand Accused”, which features a smouldering, if somewhat sprawling, five minute spoken intro.  It was an odd thing for me to be listening to when my musical diet at the time consisted of the Edgar Broughton Band and Hawkwind. If the name Isaac Hayes was pretty much unknown generally in 1970, barely a year later his name was known by many, as a direct result of his work on the soundtrack to the popular blaxploitation movie Shaft, in which he appeared in a cameo role.  The theme tune was released as a single, which went to the top of the Billboard charts and reached number four in the UK charts in 1971.  There was something intriguing about the single, which was lifted from the double soundtrack album released in the same year, which probably had a lot to do with the funky wah-wah guitar intro.  A treat for fans of the single was seeing the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain perform their version of the song at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2007, with the memorable line ‘What’s the most important thing about a coal mine apart from coal? (audience – ‘Shaft!’)  ‘No, no, no, it’s the Humphry Davy Safety Lamp’.

*** *** ***

40. Ike and Tina Turner – Nutbush City Limits | United Artists UP35582 – 1973

It would have been the incredibly funky guitar licks, the clavinet and the early synthesizer solo, that first drew me to “Nutbush City Limits” back in the early 1970s when I first heard the song on daytime radio.  I was already very much aware of the Phil Spector produced “River Deep, Mountain High” and one or two other Ike and Tina songs at the time, but it was this single that sealed the deal for me.  Semi-autobiographical, the song was written by Tina about her home town of Nutbush in Tennessee, where she would go to the store on Fridays and go to church on Sundays.  It wasn’t long after the release of this single back in 1973 that Tina had the good sense to escape the stranglehold of her abusive husband and musical partner, making this the duo’s final hit single together.  Once Tina got her life back together, things changed and the singer reinvented herself as a pop diva and found her place in history as one of the truly great performers of our time.

Playlist 15.05.21 (#525)

The Arrows and the Armour – Chris Cleverley (Single)
Kindred Spirit – Annie Keating (Bristol County Tides)
Brick in the Road – Eli West (Tapered Point of Stone)
Borrowed Days – Sarah-Jane Summers and Juhani Silvola (The Smoky Smirr O’ Rain)
Military Madness – Graham Nash (Songs for Beginners)
Paintbox – Pink Floyd (Relics)
Be Your Natural Self – Maria Muldaur (Let’s Get Happy Together)
Bandits are Doing Bad Deeds – Comorian (We Are An Island, But We’re Not Alone)
Zan Bezan – Liraz (Zan)
The Goblet – Anna Tam (Anchoress)
I’m Musing You – Melissa Carper (Daddy’s Country Gold)
Blue Canadian Rockies – The Byrds (Sweetheart of the Rodeo)
Everything is Broken – Bob Dylan (Oh Mercy)
Horò gun Togainn air Hùgan Fhathast Thu – Staran (Staran)
Blank Page – Justin Bernasconi (Single)
Things I’ll Never Learn – Mister Peculiar (Single)
Fact of Life – Twelfth Day (Single)
The River – Gnoss (The Light of the Morning)
Penny Sweets – Jack Badcock (Single)
Mandolin Wind – Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells a Story)
Ginny’s Little Longhorn – Eli West (Tapered Point of Stone)

Graham Nash – Songs for Beginners | Atlantic K40237 – 1971

Graham Nash’s debut solo album begins with an autobiographical lyric, ‘in an upstairs room in Blackpool, by the side of a northern sea, the army had my father and my mother was having me’, an open invitation into Nash’s background, having at the time abandoned Old Blighty for the sunshine excesses of Laurel Canyon, shacking up with one Joni Mitchell and being one third of one of the biggest musical combos in the world.  Songs for Beginners was released almost simultaneously with three other solo albums by each of his fellow bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young.  Recorded in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, after splitting with Mitchell, Nash seemed eager to get back to basics and record meaningful songs of change, transformation and renewal, a positive step in any break up.  For this debut effort, Nash surrounds himself with an array of notable contributors such as David Crosby, Chris Ethridge, Jerry Garcia, Rita Coolidge, Dave Mason, Neil Young, David Lindley, Bobby Keys and Phil Lesh among others.

Military Madness is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Pink Floyd – Relics | EMI Starline SRS 5071 – 1971

Released between Atom Heart Mother and Meddle, Relics is a compilation of some of Pink Floyd’s earlier successes, notably the Syd Barrett composed singles “Arnold Lane” and “See Emily Play”.  Subtitled A Bizarre Collection of Antiques & Curios and wrapped in a cover that shows a sort of pre-steampunk line drawing by drummer Nick Mason, Relics was originally released on the budget Starline label to keep the funds coming in during what was predicted to be their next album Meddle’s long gestation period.  The compilation also features material from the band’s first three studio albums released between 1967 and 1969, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets and More, plus one previously unreleased song “Biding My Time”.   Naming a compilation Relics just four years after the earliest track on the album just goes to show how quickly time seemed to be passing at that time.  Fifty years on and much of this album seems slightly dated yet remains very much a part of this hugely successful band’s body of work.

Paintbox is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

*** *** ***

Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story | Mercury 6338 063 – 1971

In 1971 you couldn’t really move without hearing the sound of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” on the radio or on the TV, notably Top of the Pops, where he appeared to be enjoying a residency, occasionally kicking a ball around the studio, while John Peel sits on a stool pretending to play the mandolin.  The actual mandolin part was provided by Ray Jackson of Lindisfarne fame, though credited on the album sleeve as ‘the mandolin player in Lindisfarne, the name slips my mind’.  In hindsight, it’s hard to get past Rod’s later appearances on the same show attired in leopard skins or worse still, in posh suits while crooning the Great American Songbook, but once we erase these awful diversions from our respective memories, we might just remember that Rod Stewart was once an almost peerless rock and roll maverick.  Every Picture Tells a Story is Rod Stewart’s third solo album following hot on the heels of An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (1969) and Gasoline Alley (1970), both worthy albums, yet this one seems to have all the right ingredients for Stewart, which allows him to place his feet firmly in both rock and pop camps.  The rockers come over as good time stompers, notably “That’s All Right”, whilst “Mandolin Wind” just might be considered one of Rod’s finest moments, before our loyalty was put to the test with such awfulness as “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “Hot Legs”.

Mandolin Wind is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Playlist for Show 09.05.21

The Fox and the Hare – Jimmy Crowley (Some Things Never Change)
The Angels Have Taken My Racehorse Away – Richard Thompson (Henry the Human Fly)
Big Ted – Incredible String Band (Changing Horses)
Mother Goose – Jethro Tull (Aqualung)
Gan to the Kye – The Unthanks (Last)
Snake Song – Townes Van Zandt (Flyin’ Shoes)
The Ant and the Grasshopper – Martin Carthy (Right of Passage)
Monkey – Eliza Carthy (Neptune)
The Monkey That Became President – Tom T Hall (We All Got It Together and…)
Mole in the Ground – Doc Watson (Red Rocking Chair)
I Love My Dog – Cat Stevens (Matthew and Son)
Year of the Cat – Al Stewart (Year of the Cat)
The Last Polar Bear – O’Hooley and Tidow (The Fragile)
One Way Donkey Ride – Sandy Denny (Rendezvous)

Much more can be found in our extensive archive by clicking on the panel above
All reviews and features by Allan Wilkinson unless otherwise stated