Issue 12

Martha Wainwright – Love Will Be Reborn | Cooking Vinyl

There’s nothing quite like the subject of love to get one’s creative juices flowing, yet strangely enough, the subject of divorce, the other end of the emotional pole, equally engages the pen in terms of art, poetry and songwriting.  Martha Wainwright’s latest album, her fifth studio album to date, is released in the wake of her divorce and some of the soul searching that presumably comes with a decree nisi, is evident here, albeit with no apparent requirement for a parental advisory warning sticker.  For the artist who wrote “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” sixteen years ago for her 2005 eponymous breakthrough album, a note to an otherwise absent father of course, which remains Martha’s most played song on Spotify (and by no small margin) – it appears that Martha has mellowed somewhat.  The songs on Love Will Be Reborn are slightly more graceful, much less confrontational, but still delivered with a passion Martha is very much capable of.  It’s in her blood of course.  Martha’s highly expressive and distinctive voice is there from the start with the almost operatic “Middle of the Lake”, not so much gently easing the listener in, but pulling us in with some considerable force.  “Getting Older”, another dramatic confessional, allows Martha to take a good look at herself as she reaches another pivotal moment in her life, a songwriter at another crossroads perhaps?  This leads us to the title song “Love Will Be Reborn”, which suggests some measure of optimism and provides us with possibly the very heart of the album. 

There’s plenty of new and original material to get our teeth into here, certainly the song that serves as an introduction to the album through its pre-release video promo, the joyous “Hole in My Heart”, a song to go out and dance in the street to – which the singer does with some relish.  “I got naked right away when I saw you / My love was like the rain when I saw you,” are possibly not quite as iconic lyrics as “Callin’ out around the world / Are you ready for a brand new beat”, but they immediately work in the context of this mid-album pop song.  There’s a tendency to stick with the woman in the abandoned house to the very end, a room once filled with life but now reduced to its threadbare tatters.  We can empathise with the longing of “Justice”, the pain of “Sometimes” and the despair of “Rainbow”, but ultimately the joy and optimism of what might just be around the corner for the singer.  Closing with a couple of firsts, “Falaise de Malaise” sees the Canadian/American singer seated at the piano, which she claims she can’t actually play, and secondly, the fact that the song is performed in Franglais, a mixture of English and French, all of which might point to another direction in what has turned out to be thoroughly engaging career.  Highly recommended.

Hole in My Heart and Falaise de Malaise are included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and Hole in My Heart is also included on the Roots and Acoustic Music Show. this week’s Vaults radio show.

Whitby Pavilion, North Promenade, West Cliff, YO21 3EN

Musicport in Whitby is a rarity among the country’s music festivals this year, in that it hasn’t been cancelled. Organiser Jim McLaughlin said: “We’re excited that, despite all the uncertainties over travel, we’ve been able to maintain the international flavour of Musicport in its 21st year. A special collaboration with English Folk Expo sees the famed Hungarian band Muzsikas who performed the soundtrack to The English Patient journey to Whitby”.

Artists booked include:

The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Les Negresses Vertes (France), Muzsikas (Hungary), Le Vent du Nord (Canada), Monsieur Doumani (Cyprus), Mary Coughlan, Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita, Les Triaboliques, Justin Adams & Mauro Durante, Dizraeli, Graham Fellows, Tankus the Henge, She’Koyokh, My Darling Clementine, Cleveland Watkiss (The Great Jamaica Songbook).

Plus, DJs and live guests in the new Perfumed Garden On Sea stage and, an alternative venue outside the main venue, Bob’s Blundabus.

“We will be operating at reduced capacity and making special arrangements to make sure staff and audiences feel safe and comfortable, observing all relevant guidelines. I think we’re all ready for a bit of a Musicport celebration, so fingers crossed that nothing gets in the way this year!”

The festival is all indoors but with added safety measures – the use of spaces has been reorganised, creating dedicated eating areas, a dedicated socially distanced area in the venue’s theatre, a dedicated DJ/club stage area and reduced overall capacity to enable more distancing. The recent easing of travel restrictions means the organisers can retain international elements, with artists coming from France, Hungary, Cyprus, etc, making Musicport one of very few international music events this autumn. The timing in the year means audiences, artists and staff can benefit fully from the vaccine programme.

Day tickets will go on sale early September. Weekend tickets are available now and being held at reduced prices until the end of August.

To book, ring 01947 603475 or call in at Whitby Music Shop on Skinner Street in Whitby.

For more details, visit musicportfestival.com

The Northern Sky Review is pleased to announce that the long-running Roots Music Club will be returning this month after the unexpected temporary closure back in March 2020.  Returning on Friday 10 September, the club welcomes the return of one of Doncaster’s favourite sons, Frank Carline, a singer, songwriter, guitar and harmonica player and singer of both self-penned and contemporary songs, with a distinctive blues voice and an impressive blues and R&B repertoire to go at.  The club is currently busy booking acts for the new season, which will take place at the club’s regular venue, the Ukrainian Centre on Beckett Road in Doncaster.  Northern Sky has supported the club over the years, covering many events which has seen appearances by such notable acts as Martin Carthy, Martin Simpson, Bronwynne Brent, Rab Noakes, Archie Fisher, Ruth Notman, Johnny Dickinson, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner, Rod Clements, Chris Wood, Steve Tilston, Jez Lowe, Flossie Malavialle, Jim Moray, Nick Harper, The Trials of Cato, Harbottle and Jonas, Alden, Patterson and Dashwood and many others besides.  The club also provides a platform for new performers with support slots available for each concert, which has historically seen musicians appear on the stage from as young as 11 years-old to those a good bit older.  Between now and the end of the year, there will be opportunities to see The Hunch (24 Sept), Jack Rutter (8 Oct) and Bella Gaffney (12 Nov) as well as the return of one or two club favourites, including Reg Meuross (22 Oct), James Taplin and Lu Moré (both 26 Nov) and Brooks Williams (10 Dec). 

Nefesh Mountain – Songs For the Sparrows | Album Review | Eden Sky Records | Review by Liam Wilkinson

Listening to Nefesh Mountain is always an exhilarating and enriching experience.  The band, at whose core sit Eric Lindberg and Doni Zasloff, meld traditional bluegrass with sublime chords, melodies and lyrics drawn from their Jewish heritage.  Take “A Sparrows Song”, one of the highlights from Songs For the Sparrows, the band’s third and latest LP; the song begins its winding journey as any trickling bluegrass track would – with a little help from stalwarts Jerry Douglas and Bryan Sutton – but the music soon becomes distinctly Jewish in tone, with Hebrew lyrics set against an entrancing minor scale.  In contrast, “Piece of the Sun” is a wonderfully buoyant slice of old-time goodness, which is all the more poignant when one considers that the song is dedicated to Anne Frank.  And then there’s the sublime “Tree of Life”, a delicately performed prayer for the victims and families of the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, which illustrates just how versatile traditional American music can be and how, regardless of culture and creed, we’re all elegantly interconnected.

I’ve Endured is included in this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Dakota Jones – Black Light | Lord Please Records

Tristan Carter-Jones has a very definite presence as she fronts this New York-based band, whose distinctively soulful sound drives these original songs along with some determination.  Blending blues and soul into a sultry mix, Dakota Jones provides the perfect vehicle for Carter-Jones’ deep rooted voice, reminiscent of, let’s say Heather Small circa ’91, but with additional New York sass.  The groove on both “Bloody Murder” and the title track for instance, demonstrates the empathetic nature of voice and musical arrangement, dove-tailed perfectly to provide the album with at least a couple of highlights.  If the poignant “Medicine” had been performed by Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse or indeed Kurt Cobain, we might perhaps still have them with us, the feel of desperation embedded in both the lyrics and the anguished arrangement would in a perfect world see help on its way.  “Lord Please” continues the theme of despair, with a convincing plea for help, delivered in pure Gospel tones as the band take it to church.  “Noise” is pure Muscle Shoals, soulful, cool, springing from the sacred water, with a horn section and organ worthy of a mid-1960s Aretha.  With the band’s song “Have Mercy” recently featured in the Netflix film Always Be My Maybe and now this impressive album, Dakota Jones just might be going places.

Bloody Murder is included in this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Brooks Williams and Aaron Catlow | Red Guitar Blue Music

Originally conceived as incidental music to accompany a couple of films by wildlife conservationist filmmaker and photographer Simon Hurwitz, this project developed into a full-length instrumental album of beautiful original compositions, with the ever-present image of the Ghost Owl in mind.   For anyone familiar with the Georgia-born singer/guitarist’s blues-based repertoire, Ghost Owl will probably come as a surprise, in that the focus here is placed entirely on his extraordinary guitar playing, enhanced by the empathetic violin playing of Aaron Catlow (Sheelanagig/Hawes & Catlow).  The compositions are rich in texture throughout and devoid of a single wasted note.  Having worked together on Brooks’ album Work My Claim, the two musicians have developed a musical understanding, which clearly comes across on all ten selections here, each borrowed from the traditional music of the British Isles, Old Time American tunes and with the odd Indian Raga thrown in.  The image of a barn owl in full flight during the title tune itself  is easy to imagine, the sweeps of the violin and ascending guitar runs perfectly in tune with one another throughout.   You will enjoy the flight.

Hoolet is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.uded in this week’s Vaults radio show.

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Elaine Palmer – The Land In Between | Butterfly Effect

It’s quite easy to melt into the sound of Elaine Palmer’s confident voice, as the singer delivers each song with tenderness and warmth, especially such songs as “The Mill House” and “Once a Mother”.  Evoking the spirit of the wild and windy moors of her birth, the songs on The Land In Between often inhabit a country feel, emphasised by some tasty pedal steel in places and haunting fiddle in others.  “Heading Back West” is the sort of highway song best served from the radio of an open top car heading in that specific direction.  Elaine has ties to Arizona and therefore a road trip of this sort is easy to imagine, further emphasised with strategically placed twang.  The atmospheric closer “Your Rising Sun” showcases Elaine’s expressive vocal credentials, similar in a way to those of Martha Wainwright.  A short album coming in at around thirty minutes, but not a minute wasted as far as I can tell.

Heading Back West is included in this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The Frank Burkitt Band – Silvereye | Self Release

Frank Burkitt says “If one person out there can get any sort of healing or common ground from any of these songs then I will be deeply honoured and touched”.  This listener ticks both boxes immediately, which is probably good news for both Frank and myself.  This album takes no getting into, with immediately nourishing melodies right from the start.  “I Know Nothing At All” drifts along like a simmering stew, delicate, soulful and welcoming.  It’s not an obvious album opener, but rather a song that beckons you through the door, to maybe kick off your shoes and most importantly, relax a little; why rush around?  “World King” is reminiscent of Laura Veirs for some reason, possibly from around her Carbon Glacier period.  Perhaps it has a similar melody or feel, but it’s there, which is not a bad thing.  The title song “Silvereye”, named for a small bird native to New Zealand, places further emphasis on Frank and partner Kara Filby’s harmonious vocals, while the bluesy “Mr Lonesome” continues to deliver much of the same; voices evidently made for one another.  Reminiscent of James Taylor in places, Frank has a remarkable knack of providing the most suitable arrangement for each of the songs, while keeping to a soothing feel throughout.  There’s no alarming tangents, no adrenaline-fuelled rushes of energy to speak of, yet the album avoids becoming tedious at every chord change, with brass and flute coming in at just the right moments.  This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing here to make you sit up and think, “Why I Hate You” is clear in its intent, an honest meditation on the man presumably in charge, while the aforementioned “World King” says everything we need to know about the former Pres and possibly provides a suggestion of what went wrong.  This is the kind of album you might pop right back to the beginning once the final track fades to a close.  Once you’ve relaxed into Silvereye, why go and spoil it all by getting up to do something less enjoyable?  With James Geluk on double bass, Louis Thompson-Munn on keyboards and Becka Wolfe on fiddle, Silvereye is a fabulous creation.

I Know Nothing at All is included in this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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I See Hawks in LA – On Our Way | Western Seeds Record Company

One of Southern California’s leading alt country bands, I See Hawks in LA return with their tenth album to date, On Our Way, which is also the band’s first post-pandemic album.  Detailing a band’s lockdown practices and procedures is becoming almost obligatory in light of recent events, yet each circumstance is slightly different.  In the case of this band, Rob Waller and Paul Lacques would keep to a strict weekly songwriting schedule, adopting to Facetime one another at 4pm prompt every Friday afternoon, which seems to have done the trick.  With further assistance from band mates Victoria Jacobs and Paul Marshall, On Our Way has been developed under extraordinary circumstances, yet the results are probably better than expected.  Rather than focusing on the current crisis, the band turned to history for inspiration, honing in on such figures as Geronimo and Muhammad Ali, not to mention the odd Kentucky Jesus, who ‘knocked the Devil to the floor’ at one point.  Stylistically the band keep pretty much to their alt country, Americana and folk rock roots, with some occasional driving rhythms, gutsy blues and renegade lyricism to keep their fans happy.  The album also contains a song with a setting a few thousand miles from home, with “Kensington Market” adopting a pop sensibility that wouldn’t be too far out of place on some vintage ‘Swinging Sixties’ radio show.  I See Hawks in LA can be diverse when the mood takes them evidently.  On the subject of the old wireless, “Radio Keeps Me on the Ground (Slight Return)”, is a fine homage to those who have managed to keep us entertained during an unprecedented lockdown period.  Radio shows and online podcasts have certainly kept a good few of us on the ground over the last eighteen months.  The sprawling eight minutes of “How You Gonna Know” completes the album, where the band engage in some funky Doors-like experimental rhythms to keep us on our toes.

Kensington Marketis included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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The Lucky Ones – The Lucky Ones | Self Released

Hailing from the northern reaches of Canada, the Yukon-based bluegrass band The Lucky Ones take the music they grew up with and give it a little shake up for contemporary audiences, without losing any of the music’s original feel.  This is bluegrass that you can imagine being played in the taverns and barns during the gold rush.  “Fool’s Gold”, is probably a good place to start, the beckoning of extra hands to rush to the gold mines, with a promise that it will ‘turn your lives around’.  With the Klondike never far from view, the band, which developed from the Klondike Sons in fact, keep things rooted in their own traditions, with a blazing fiddle courtesy of Kieran Poile, a few choice mandolin runs from Ryan West and obligatory banjo picking from Aaron P Burnie, each stepping forward to the mic at strategic places, notably on “Snowflakes in the Sun” and “When the Farm Got Sold”, a mike otherwise pretty much dominated by the frontline of JD McCallen and Ian Smith.  Recorded at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Dawson City on the same weekend that the band played a Sunday gospel set especially for the congregation, this eponymous debut serves as a fine start to a promising run.

Snowflakes in the Sun is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Rod Picott – Wood, Steel, Dust and Dreams | Welding Rod Records

If John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III and Steve Forbert were thought to be Bob Dylan’s ‘kick-ass kid brothers’, then Rod Picott might very well be considered a younger sibling of Bruce Springsteen.  There’s something very blue collar in Picott’s writing and something very Springsteen in his delivery – the acoustic Springsteen that is, although I’m sure Picott is fully capable of the full band effect.  For this double album retrospective, Picott has sifted through the back catalogue of songs he co-wrote with his long-time brother from another mother Slaid Cleaves, resulting in a collection of twenty-five songs presented here.  Armed with an acoustic guitar, sometimes accompanied by Will Kimbrough’s guitar or some additional acoustic slide courtesy of Matt Mauch, Picott delivers each song with confidence and determination, leaving us in no doubt that he believes every word he sings.  Cleaves makes a brief appearance, adding backing vocals to “Bring It On”, a Cleaves song that Picott claims to have ‘changed the tyres on’ and maybe even ‘hung a pine tree air freshener to the rear view mirror’.  I know what he means.   A little like the finessing Glenn Frey did on Jackson Browne’s “Take It Easy” perhaps?  Picott is only too willing to wear his influences on his sleeve, claiming that though books and films help, it’s mostly his own life that provides the well to draw from, while such a song as the excellent “Rust Belt Fields”, is merely a ‘rollicking sort of Steve Earle imitation’.  Despite this, Picott is all over this project, an unwavering stylist, whose voice is immediately recognisable in a large crowd.  Concluding with “The Ballad of the Magic Rats”, Picott’s only solely written song on the album,  provides a glimpse into the early lives of a bunch of teenage boys poised to conquer the world, the two protagonists who went on to write the songs on this very album.  If the songs of Rod Picott, or indeed Slaid Cleaves are new to you, then this is a great place to start.

Welding Burns is included in this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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The Landworkers’ Alliance – Stand Up Now | Many a Thousand Records

The Landworkers’ Alliance are a union of farmers, growers, foresters and land-based workers, whose mission it is to improve the livelihoods of their members through better food and land-use.  Working in partnership with one or two established names on the contemporary folk scene, including Ewan McClennan, Nick Hart, Sid Goldsmith and Jimmy Aldridge, the Alliance has put together an album of songs with a strong connection with the land.  The title Stand Up Now has obligatory activist connotations as is the standard with many contemporary folk projects, though you don’t feel you are being beaten over the head unnecessarily, though Leon Rossleson’s bold “The World Turned Upside Down” is always powerful, whether in the hands of Rossleson himself, Dick Gaughan or indeed in this case Goldsmith and Aldridge.  The songs are in some cases familiar, such as “Rufford Park Poachers”, “Green Brooms” and “The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood”, some of which were gathered in a similar fashion as the iconic Radio Ballads, with much of the material recorded out in ‘the field’.  Many of these voices will be new to you, but there’s a sense that these recordings will not be their last.  If the Alliance strives for the dignity of producers to earn a decent living, access local, healthy and affordable food, fuel and fibre, then songs such as these will always have a place in these noble endeavours.

Rufford Park Poachers is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Madi Diaz – History of a Feeling | Anti

Although I had an immediate desire to play “Think of Me” on Northern Sky’s accompanying radio show, common sense got the better of me, much the same as it did before deciding against playing Martha Wainwright’s fabulous “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” sixteen years ago and John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” a good few years before that.  When Kenneth Tynan first introduced the colourful word on our TV sets back in the mid-1960s the shock value was unprecedented, yet here we are over half a century later still worrying ourselves senseless over a four-letter word.  Singer-songwriter Madi Diaz has good reason to include the word liberally throughout her new solo album History of a Feeling as she appears to have been through the emotional wringer and back.  Splitting with a former partner is a tough thing to go through at the best of times, but having one transition in the process opens up a whole different can of worms and Diaz addresses those emotions head on.  I like Madi Diaz.  I admire her song writing, her poetry, her confident voice and her fine melodies.  Most of all I admire her honesty and this comes over in spades with such songs as “Think of Me”, “Resentment”, “Man in Me”, “Crying in Public” as well as the poignant title song.  Through all the heartache and emotional soul searching, there’s also a sense of optimism, if at times almost subliminal, notably on the album’s concluding piano-led song “Do It Now”.  This is such a powerful album, loaded with sensitivity, yet delivered in clear and unambiguous language.

Bella Gaffney – Black Water | Eboracum Records

If a songwriter is going to write a song that celebrates the River Wharf in the Yorkshire Dales, it might as well be the Bradford-born  singer-songwriter Bella Gaffney, who seems to have found a vital connection between the river and her family during these difficult past few months; a lifeline of sorts.  Produced by Dan Webster, “Black Water” is a gentle acoustic song, featuring a prominent banjo and guitar accompaniment, with some equally gentle fiddle runs courtesy of fellow Magpie Emily Lawler.  Having come to terms with a new approach to music making over the past few months, Bella has been busy on her album, due for release next year, which will include contributions from musicians from either side of the globe, including Sam Kelly from the UK and Hussy Hicks from Australia.  The album is funded by Arts Council England and also the York-based charity Doing it for Liam.

Black Water is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Manran – Crow Flies | Self Release

“Crow Flies” is the first new material from the Scottish band Mànran since the arrival within their ranks of the fine singer Kim Carnie and guitarist Aidan Moodie, who both leave an indelible mark on this single.  Taken from the band’s new album ÙRAR, their fourth to date, which is pronounced oo-rar and meaning ‘fresh’ or ‘flourishing’, “Crow Flies” has a driving rhythm throughout, lifted by Carnie’s gentle lead vocal and Moodie’s backing vocal.  Ewen Henderson contributes fiddle, while Gary Innes, Ross Saunders, Ryan Murphy and Mark Scobbie appear on accordion, bass, whistles and drums respectively.  If the song celebrates the coming together of people, it comes at a precisely the right time, when we all need a lift and a sprinkling of optimism.

Crow Flies is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

Jennifer Otter Bickerdike – You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone: The Biography of Nico | Faber

The first thing you notice about Jennifer Otter Bickerdike when you hear her voice on any of the many podcasts available or see her on a random videocast or film documentary, or indeed if you meet her in real life, in all her three dimensional splendour,  is just how passionate she can be about the subject under discussion.  The subject could be Henry Rollins, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis or even Britney Spears, then again it could be the importance of the vinyl record in our culture for instance, or any number of other pressing matters, either way, Jennifer seems to have no apparent ‘off switch’ when it comes to throwing in the odd whoop of delight or the occasional loud and theatrical ‘OMG’, she is enthusiasm personified.  Jennifer reminds me of a modern day Lilian Roxon, continuously updating entries in her famous Rock Encyclopaedia only in today’s language.  Turning her attention to Christa Päffgen, otherwise known as Nico, the one time model, actress and rock chanteuse, Jennifer tells the unique story of a troubled artist lost in a strange world of ultra-creative people in some key moments in mid-twentieth century history.  From her earliest days in Nazi Germany, through her burgeoning career as a model and movie star, we follow the sometimes grim path that Nico traversed in order to become one of the most familiar faces on the underground scene, inadvertently getting in the way of Lou Reed’s ego (while competing with his determination to be the sole front person of the Velvet Underground), and before that, being unceremoniously brushed under the carpet by the French actor Alain Delon, who appeared to have trouble facing up to his paternal responsibilities.  The story is told with sensitivity and empathy, backed up with factual evidence, while avoiding obvious sensationalism and unnecessary mythologizing.  Jennifer presents the story of one of rock’s true enigmas with responsibility and with a keen eye for detail.  You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, the title taken from a lyric in Nico’s song “Afraid” from her 1970 Desertshore period, is never bogged down with clever intellectualism or fanciful language, but rather sticks to a true account in plain English that can be enjoyed by all.  I read this book quickly and to the soundtrack of Nico, from her iconic debut with the Velvet Underground, through each of her solo albums and with the occasional glimpse at online film footage, coming away with a much better understanding of this otherwise misunderstood icon. 

These Days from Nico’s debut solo album Chelsea Girl is included in this week’s Vaults radio show.

Tom T Hall (1936-2021)

Thomas T. Hall was born in Olive Hill, Kentucky in May 1936 and would later be nicknamed The Storyteller due to his ability to spin a good yarn or two.  Country music has always been known for its many and varied stories and Tom Hall provided the genre with a wealth of them, “Harper Valley PTA”, being possibly the best known, a number one hit for Jeannie C Riley back in 1968.  Other notable hits include “A Week in a Country Jail”, “The Year Clayton Delaney Died” and “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine”.  Tom was married to the bluegrass songwriter and producer Dixie Hall, his second wife born Iris Lawrence in the West Midlands, England.  The couple met in 1965 and lived in Franklin, Tennessee.  Hall also had a son from huis first marriage, Dean Hall, a singer, musician and songwriter who worked for his father as a roadie and guitar player in the 1980s.  Tom T Hall died at his home in Franklin, Tennessee, on 20 August, 2021.  He was 85.

Harper Valley PTA (performed by Jeannie C Riley) is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Don Everly (1936-2021)

The familiar sound of Don and Phil Everly has been around for almost as long as rock and roll itself, the brothers coming to prominence in the late Fifties with such hits as “Bye Bye Love”, “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All You Have To Do Is Dream”.  From an early age Don learned to sing and play, making his radio debut around the age of eight along with his brother Phil, who was two years his junior.  Born in Brownie, Kentucky, Don and Phil signed their first recording deal in 1957, which was followed by several hits on both the country and pop charts, despite the fact that the brothers didn’t get along too well.  Their vocal style has become a yardstick for sibling harmony, though some would point towards the Stanley Brothers and the Louvin Brothers as the true starting point.  Don’s struggle with substance abuse over many years led to disharmony and the siblings parting company in 1973 after tensions reached boiling point, though the duo did reunite several times over the ensuing years until the death of the younger brother in 2014.  Don Everly died on 21 August, 2021 at the age of 84.

Crying in the Rain is included on both this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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Charlie Watts (1941-2021)

The contrast between the front man and the engine works was probably never more noticeable than between the ultra-flamboyant Mick Jagger and the dignified and stoic Charlie Watts, always seated but a few feet behind – or perhaps a good few metres behind in the context of the much larger stadium stages that came along later.  Charlie Watts was essentially a jazz drummer, hand-picked by the Rolling Stones original leader Brian Jones, after seeing him in action sitting behind Alexis Korner in the dim and distant past.  Throughout the mid-1960s, Charlie’s unfussy and steady beats formed the backdrop to many of the band’s early hits, which continued into possibly the band’s most creative period, between the release of the outstanding album Beggars Banquet (1968) through to Exile on Main Street (1972), and then on through the next few decades.  With only the briefest skirmish with what could be described as a rock n roll lifestyle in the 1980s, Charlie Watts remained the quiet, unassuming and dignified of all the Stones past and present and will probably be remembered as one of the few genuinely nice people in rock and roll, which makes his passing even more difficult to accept.  Charlie Watts died on 24 August, 2021, at the age of 80 after a short period of illness.

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Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (1936-2021)

Born Rainford Hugh Perry in Kendal, Jamaica in 1936, Lee became known as a prolific record producer and singer, pioneering and developing dub music in the 1970s and working with a wide variety of musicians from Bob Marley and the Wailers to The Orb.  Born into a working class environment, the young musician moved to Kingston in the 1960s and began producing records at the Studio One recording studios, which were released on Downbeat Sound System records.  He soon went on to form his own Upsetter Records label before the end of the decade.  Perry built his own studio, which would become known as The Black Ark, which drew such artists as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, Junior Byles, Max Romeo and the Heptones, before exploring other avenues as far away from his home as America, England and Switzerland.  Perry will probably be remembered mostly for his contribution to new studio techniques, which are still a major influence on artists today.  Lee Perry died on 29 August, 2021 at a hospital in Lucea, Jamaica.  He was 85. 

Oh My Darling at The Greystones, Sheffield in 2011

Danny Schmidt at the Wheelhouse, Wombwell in 2011

Sarah Jarosz at The Greystones, Sheffield in 2011

69. Townes Van Zandt – Our Mother the Mountain | TomatoTOM 7015 – 1978

The second album by the legendary Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt was first released in 1969 and re-issued in 1978 on Tomato.  It was probably the first indication for me that there was more to country music than rhinestones and big hairdos.  I didn’t get to see Townes until 1990, when he actually came to my home town, wandering in and out like tumbleweed, playing a couple of sets before what could only have barely been described as an audience at the now demolished Toby Jug in Doncaster.  During the break a couple of us went up to say hello and had a brief chat.  After the second set, as we headed for the door, he called over, “Thanks for saying hello”.  The last time I saw Townes Van Zandt was five months before he died at the Cambridge Folk Festival, where he tried to play a main stage set to an audience primarily made up of Saw Doctors fans, who had congregated for their headline set later that evening.  Seeing him drink vodka directly from the bottle, splashed down with coke from a bottle in his other hand, one mouthful after the other, as seen in the film Heartworn Highways,  will probably be my lasting memory of this great songwriting hero.  Our Mother the Mountain has one or two classic Townes songs, including “Be Here To Love Me”, “Kathleen” and “Tecumseh Valley”.

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70. Nanci Griffith – The Last of the True Believers | Rounder REU 1013 – 1986

It was around the mid-1980s when I first began to take notice of country music once again.  After so many years of rhinestone cowboys, frequent divorces (with full stops between each upper case letter) and islands in the streams, I thought I would never return.  Then along came Nanci Griffith and Lyle Lovett and a whole bunch of other songwriters who laboured under the ‘New Country’ banner and things began to look interesting once again.  In 1989, both Griffith and Lovett appeared on the bill of the twenty-fifth anniversary Cambridge Folk Festival, which prompted me to make an effort to attend for the first time.  I remember arriving at the Cherry Hinton site with the car windows down and being horrified after hearing the sound of Nanci coming from the main stage.  The speed at which I parked the car, organised a wife and two very young children and arrived in front of the main stage was unprecedented.  I think I managed to do it in two songs flat.  The Last of the True Believers was one of several LPs I already had in the collection, which not only features Nanci and Lyle waltzing on the cover, but also some great songs such as “Love at the Five and Dime” (or Woolies as we know it over here), “The Wing and the Wheel” and a rather fulfilling reading of Tom Russell’s “St Olav’s Gate”.

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71. Gay and Terry Woods – The Time Is Right | Polydor Super 2383 375 – 1976

When Ashley Hutchings first set out to form Steeleye Span back in the late 1960s, the first musicians he approached were Johnny Moynihan, Andy Irvine and Gay and Terry Woods.  Moynihan and Irvine declined the offer overnight, making way for the two musicians who would become synonymous with the band in the future, Maddy Prior and Tim Hart, who stepped in to form the original five-piece Folk Rock outfit.  It was all pretty much short lived as Gay and Terry left to join Dr Strangely Strange, a sort of Irish version of the Incredible String Band, shortly afterwards.  The Time Is Right is one of four LPs that would be released by the duo in the 1970s.  Terry Woods went on to join The Pogues and Gay (born Gabriel Corcoran) would later re-join Steeleye for a few years, before finally leaving the band in 2001 after contributing to four albums, including Time (1996) and Bedlam Boys (2000).  My pal Mick Swinson introduced me to this album in the mid 1980s and I soon obtained my own copy in an amicable exchange with another friend, for a Steve Forbert LP I had lying about, in the days when swapping vinyl was almost as essential as breathing.

69. Fairfield Parlour – Bordeaux Rose | Vertigo 6059 003 – 1970

Fairfield Parlour was one of those relatively obscure UK bands that emerged in the late 1960s having already had some success under the name of Kaleidoscope, a name already taken by a psychedelic band from California.  Their style was pretty much in the same vein as early Pink Floyd and Traffic, with some folk elements.  Their debut album From Home to Home seemed to pop up in every record shop browser back in 1970, the year of its release and there was a tendency to confuse the band with Fairport Convention, alphabetically their closest neighbour, though they had little in common musically.  Prior to the release of this album, which was released on the iconic swirling Vertigo label, the band released “Bordeaux Rose” (or Bordeaux Rose-ay!) as their first single as Fairfield Parlour, though they had already released seven singles as Kaleidoscope, again on the Vertigo label.  Although the single didn’t appear on the original album, it did appear as a bonus track, together with a further alternate version on the 2001 double reissue.  I first came across the album in a record shop in North Wales in the early 1970s and sadly left it in the shop; I say sadly, as copies of the original LP now fetch the same sort of sums as a good second hand car.

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70. Mick Ronson – Billy Porter | RCA 2482 – 1974

The Hull-born singer and guitarist Mick Ronson was probably best known for his work with David Bowie during Bowie’s most creative and critically acclaimed period as a key member of the Spiders from Mars.  Watching Top of the Pops every Thursday evening was a family thing back then, and there would always be something for all ages.  When Bowie and Ronson got close up and personal during their TOTP debut with “Starman”, it was just a little too much for dad, who lurched out of the room to the kitchen to swill out his teacup, return moments later, pick up the evening post and grumble under his breath, as I continued to gaze at the TV with my mouth agape.  Ronson was also known for his work as a guitarist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and producer and throughout the 1970s until his untimely death in the early 1990s, worked not only with Bowie but also Ian Hunter and at one point Bob Dylan during the noted Rolling Thunder tour, making a string if solo albums along the way.  It was in the mid-1970s however when local cover bands who were then dominating the working men’s clubs of the north of England latched onto “Billy Porter”, one of Ronson’s most memorable songs, although it never achieved the chart topping status it thoroughly deserved. 

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71. The Kinks – Dead End Street | PYE 7N.17222 – 1966

To a nine-year old from the north of England, the Kinks usually represented all the glamour of a ‘Swinging London’, with tinted specs, brightly coloured union jack tunics and frilly shirt cuffs, all of which seemed a world away from the dreary mid-Sixties North.  By April 1966, Time magazine had declared London ‘The Swinging City’, with a feature on its cover, letting America know where its epicentre was, whilst The Kinks lampooned Carnaby Street in their Music Hall inspired hit “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, which went on to reach number four in the UK charts.  By the end of the year though, Ray Davies had penned a rather bleak antidote to the forthcoming Summer of Love with “Dead End Street”, a song I could actually relate to, living on a dead end street myself.  The promo film that accompanied the single, shot on Little Green Street in Kentish Town, remains one of the most unusual pre-video age promo music films, which was considered to be in bad taste at the time by the BBC.  Despite its rather bleak subject matter, the song remains one of the band’s best loved songs of the mid-Sixties along with “Sunny Afternoon” and “Waterloo Sunset”.

Playlist for Show 01.09.21 (#532)

Lone Star State of Mind – Nanci Griffith (Lone Star State of Mind)
Snowflakes in the Sun – The Lucky Ones (The Lucky Ones)
Harper Valley PTA – Jeannie C. Riley (Single)
Crying in the Rain – The Everly Brothers (The Very Best Of)
Hole in My Heart – Martha Wainwright (Love Will Be Reborn)
Kensington Market – I See Hawks in LA (On Our Way)
Black Water – Bella Gaffney (Single)
Crow Flies – Mànran (Single)
Hoolet – Brooks Williams and Aaron Catlow (Ghost Owl)
I’ve Endured – Nefesh Mountain (Songs for the Sparrows)
When Papa Played the Dobro – Flatt & Scruggs (The Fabulous Sound of Flatt & Scruggs)
Watching the River Flow – Frank Carline (Black Crow Blues)
I Know Nothing At All – Frank Burkitt Band (Silvereye)
These Days – Nico (Chelsea Girl)
Rufford Park Poachers – Ewan McClennan (Stand Up Now)
Late November – Sandy Denny (The North Star Grassman and the Ravens)
Welding Burns – Rod Picott (Wood, Steel, Dust and Dreams)
Falaise de Malaise – Martha Wainwright (Love Will Be Reborn)
Bloody Murder – Dakota Jones (Black Light)

The Band – Cahoots | Capitol E-ST 651 – 1971

The fourth studio album release by Dylan’s former touring band simply known as The Band, began to show the first signs of cracks in the system after an impressive run of previously released critically acclaimed albums, their first two of which are now considered classics, Music From Big Pink (1968) and The Band (1969), together with the slightly disappointing third effort, Stagefright (1970).  Cahoots could never really be expected to reach the same sort of heights, with only a handful of tracks worthy of inclusion in subsequent compilations.  The album is notable for featuring a female voice for the first time on a Band album, where Levon Helm’s partner Libby Titus appears some uncredited backing vocals, as well as a memorable collaboration with Van Morrison on the noteworthy “4% Pantomime”, where the grumpy old Belfast Cowboy soulfully duets with the late Richard Manuel.  Perhaps the most memorable of songs on the album is the opener “Life is a Carnival”, which features one of Allen Toussaint’s fine and funky brass arrangements.  

When I Paint My Masterpiece is included in this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

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Sandy Denny – The North Star Grassman and the Ravens | Island ILPS 9165 – 1971

The North Star Grassman and the Ravens was the first of four solo albums Sandy Denny released between 1971 and 1977, and the first recorded after the disbandment of her band Fotheringay, which dissolved half way through the recording of the band’s second album.  Produced by Sandy, together with her former Fairport band mate Richard Thompson and noted engineer John Wood, North Star was made up predominantly self-penned songs, such as the gorgeous “Late November”, “Next Time Round” and “Crazy Lady Blues”, with a couple of covers in Bob Dylan’s “Down in the Flood” and the old Alvin Gaines & the Themes 1959 hit “Let’s Jump the Broomstick”, written by Charles Robbins and later covered by Brenda Lee.  Sandy was joined on the album by former Fotheringay musicians Trevor Lucas, Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway, together with appearances by Richard Thompson, Buddy Emmons and Barry Dransfield among others, with string arrangements by Harry Robinson.

Late November is included on this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show and Crazy Lady Blues on the Roots and Acoustic Music Show.

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The Steve Miller Band – Rock Love | Capitol E-SW 748 – 1971

Comprising one side of predominantly live material, recorded in both Hollywood and Pasadena, and the second side made up completely of studio tracks, Rock Love is the Steve Miller Band’s sixth album release on Capitol Records.  Having shed each of the original band members over the course of the five previous albums, Miller continued on with Bobby Winkelman, recruiting members of the bassist’s previous band Frumious Bandersnatch, effectively embarking on a new decade with another blues-based album.  The album was a critical and commercial failure prompting some to refer to it as ‘Rock Bottom’, the tracks almost completely ignored on many of the band’s subsequent compilation albums and retrospectives, although the title track does appear on the 1973 Capitol Records compilation in its Masters of Rock series.     

Rock Love is included in this week’s Northern Sky Vaults Radio Show.

Playlist for Show 12.09.21

Lone Star State of Mind – Nanci Griffith (Lone Star State of Mind)
Snowflakes in the Sun – The Lucky Ones (The Lucky Ones)
Harper Valley PTA – Jeannie C. Riley (Single)
Crying in the Rain – The Everly Brothers (The Very Best Of)
Hole in My Heart – Martha Wainwright (Love Will Be Reborn)
Kensington Market – I See Hawks in LA (On Our Way)
Black Water – Bella Gaffney (Single)
Crow Flies – Mànran (Single)
Hoolet – Brooks Williams and Aaron Catlow (Ghost Owl)
I’ve Endured – Nefesh Mountain (Songs for the Sparrows)
When Papa Played the Dobro – Flatt & Scruggs (The Fabulous Sound of Flatt & Scruggs)
Watching the River Flow – Frank Carline (Black Crow Blues)
Rufford Park Poachers – Ewan McClennan (Stand Up Now)
Crazy Lady Blues – Sandy Denny (The North Star Grassman and the Ravens)

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