Rylands Rocking Rousing Rebel Rumble

Evil, Barbarism and Empire
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How beautiful and apposite. And so the curtain starts to fall on Ride The River. I had not expected this CD to be quite so much of a spiritual experience for me. Nor to provoke quite so much reflective thought. Proof again that the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts and Cale and Clapton form an amazingly strong but gentle and formidable team.

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Eric certainly knew what he was doing when he followed his instincts and set about doing this CD. Something, I for one, would not have missed for the world. A must have. If it were vinyl it would have to be two copies - it is going to be played so much! Clapton is God? Miranda Ward May www. I needn't have worried. From the first beat of the opener "My Gal", I was in familiar territory.

A wonderful, laid-back JJ Cale world where the roads are empty, the beer is cold and life hums along to the lazy burble of a big V8. The problem is that the more I listened, the more I was convinced that it wasn't quite firing on all cylinders. Not that the album is in any way poor, it's just that I have one or two minor niggles about what could have been a really top-notch CD. I like my blues to be played by real musicians not machines. Half of the songs on "To Tulsa and Back" feature a live band and the other half are solo efforts by Cale himself.

This is a mix that he has used successfully since his debut "Naturally". Thing is though, the unaccompanied tracks on this album are backed by the slightly synthetic sound of a drum machine. For the most part, this didn't matter. Unfortunately, it wasn't to last. Things came to a head with "Rio". I was on holiday at the time and every bar on the island featured a keyboard player belting out karaoke versions of old chart hits with a synthesised Latin beat and pre-programmed instruments.

The familiar cracked and croaking Cale vocals were there as usual, yet even this couldn't disguise the fact that the music sounded not only false, but also out of place on what was for the most part a blues album. To me it just sounded wrong. Luckily for me, I didn't give up, because from Jim Karstein's first real brush stroke on a real snare drum, "These Blues" got me right back in the groove. What a relief. After the temporary misfire, things smoothed out and just got better and better. In the end, I was left feeling that the final banjo picking track "Another Song" came around way too soon.

Incidentally, has anyone else noticed the similarity in guitar and vocal styles between JJ Cale and Britain's own Mark Knopfler? Take a listen and you'll see what I mean. JJ Cale - Live Virgin This is self-effacing, Tulsa-born JJ Cale's first ' live ' offering in an album career which commenced in with the wonderful ' Naturally ' on Shelter and has remained consistently excellent throughout. The whoops of joy from the audience, captured on this album, were echoed by me writing the review.

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Oh my! His songs may be better known to some for being recorded by ' great and good ' Eric Clapton, Santana, The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mavericks and more, but no one does it like JJ Cale; the effortless perfection of that laid-back and rhythmic blues shuffle, that confidential mumble - like he's telling you stuff you'll really want to know - and those flashes of understated guitar brilliance which have influenced better-known guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler. From the opening track, an outstanding solo acoustic After Midnight, bass player Bill Raffensperger joins him for Old Man, and the full band come on for Call Me The Breeze and Sensitive Kind from Cargegie Hall '96 for one of the greatest recorded live performances I can remember.

More than "highly recommended". Paris was the outwardly gentle-as-the-Welsh-accent record that occupied a kind of no-man's-land between Cale's two post-Velvets Columbia albums bold experimentation with Terry Riley on Church Of Anthrax then the rockist surrealism of Vintage Violence and his arguably even more maverick Island recordings.

Its elegant gentility and supreme musical accessibility turned out to be deceptive; indeed, Cale himself has even described it as "an example of the nicest ways of saying something ugly". As the writer of this reissue's booklet note posits, the album title's timeline the Versailles Conference was after all a harbinger of future bloodshed, and even the most luxurious melodies can't hide the rivers of blood - and acute sense of loss - running through the intelligent, knowingly literate if at times cryptic lyrics of these songs.

The album therefore repays much more than just a superficial rosy-tinted revisit, and its latest reissue fittingly expands the original nine tracks by the addition of no less than eleven "sketches and roughs" for the album. These inevitably vary in interest, from a beautifully dark, viola-rich Hanky Panky Nohow and a more chansonnier yet strangely satisfying solo-piano-backed version of the title track with a rather lovely Brian-Wilson-inspired vocal bridge passage to a poignant yet curiously enigmatic previously-unreleased song, the country-waltz-tinged Burned Out Affair. In truth, I actually prefer many of these "rough mixes" the majority being anything but rough in fact , where the ambiguity of the lyrics is in my opinion better complemented by the fresher yet paradoxically more considered settings.

Even the messy, out-of-tune piano on Graham Greene has a certain charm! In all, this is a fascinating and enlightening reissue. Recorded in September , shortly after the release of Garden Ruin, this shows the band in a transitional period, reflecting on their earlier experimental, atmospheric ambience but moving towards the more structured song oriented and often pop inclined approach to their craft that now defines their work, their Tex-Mex border cinemascope mariachi sound informing both. With singer Joey Burns in relaxed, chatty form, it's a fairly evenly balanced set list, opening with a pared down Convict Pool and including such past nuggets as a crowd rousing, trumpet soaked Across The Wire, El Picador and the superb rock edged Not Even Stevie Nicks alongside then new numbers like subdued ballad Cruel, the muscular rock fire of Letter to Bowie Knife and Roka.

That, of course, was written by Iron and Wine's Sam Beam and the live set delivers a terrific reprise of the studio collaboration between him, wife Sarah, Duran and the band. The influence of Arthur Lee is often evident in Calexico's music, so it's fitting too that one of the highlights of the set is a superb cover of Love's Alone Again Or that does full justice to the original.

If, you happen to have seen this as a tape of the TV show, you'll also be pleased to know that the DVD features the extended full version of the show with no less than eight songs that weren't included in the broadcast. Calexico - Feast of Wire City Slang Always providing a welcome blend of bluesy Mariachi desert rock Americana and border stories, this is easily their finest album yet with its mix of cinematic epic and atmospheric sparsity.

Peppered with instrumental interludes, it scuffs its dust blown heart through such downbeat visions as Sunken Waltz and the plaintively sad Not Even Stevie Nicks -where Joey Burns shows off his rarely heard falsetto - and the hushed spook of Woven Birds. But while Across The Wire may be a typical brass hued Calexico TexMex number they also pull a few rugs from under the feet of expectations with the jazztronics Attack El Robot!

They've also just lifted one of the album's stand outs, the string drenched , heavy limbed melancholy of Black Heart, for an EP of reworks and remixes that include a jazz dub version of that, a 3am smoky cellar sax mourning retool of Robot and the Go Tan Project's samba lurch of Quattro.

Harp player Alvin 'Big Al' Calhoun and guitarist Henry Townsend get together for this August session that was recorded in Townsend's home in St Louis, a fact that only adds to the charm of the album. The session, recorded by Arcola founder Bob West, was suggested by Townsend after West had recorded him earlier that month. The result was Harmonica Blues and it is a great example of the art of harmonica playing.

Calhoun takes on the vocal duties for the first half of the album and his smokey voice compliments his harp and Townsend's, sometime sparse, yet effective, guitar style. Black Panther is a good, powerful opener with both guys on form and is followed by the often covered and probably not too politically correct nowadays, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl - good version though. The instrumental Al's Boogie-Woogie shows all of the facets of Calhoun's playing and his songwriting skill is shown on Buy Me An Airplane, the only track on the album written by him although if he could write this good then why aren't there more of his tracks present?

Calhoun said that if he could pick any guitar players to play with then he'd choose the Meyers Brothers who were, incidentally Little Walter's men. The last track sung by Calhoun is That's All Right, which is a wailing blues in the classic mould with Townsend's guitar twanging away in the background.

Henry Townsend and his wife Vernell take over the vocal duties for the rest of the album and the style changes from Calhoun's raw delivery to the Townsend's more polished vocals. Betty Lou is standard fare but Can't You See has the Townsend's in harmony on one of the highlights of the set. This is the track of the album and Vernell takes the lead vocal. She sings the song perfectly, Henry delivers the guitar fills with venom and Big Al plays understated harmonica brilliantly.

The closing song is the more upbeat but Tin Pan Alley wins the contest of the singers. Calhoun is not to be outdone and produces some of his best work on Old Story Blues. If this is an indication of what is in the Arcola archives then hopefully they'll be opened again soon. This fascinating minute disc is rather unassumingly subtitled "folk songs and spirituals". It contains vital and committed performances of authentic spirituals, shout songs from the Sea Islands, prison ballads and rare secular songs from the African-American folk tradition.

Andrew's own excellent rootsy singing is found to be ideal to the task, and he's augmented by the individual and combined voices of around a dozen other singers, including within their ranks Bruce Soper, Tony Dale, Sue Demel, Katherine Davis, Darwin McBeth Walton, Richard Shindell, Valerie Carter-Brown and Runako Robinson and most of these get a solo! The beauteous richness of these voices is given a perfectly sensitive amount of instrumental support guitars, banjo, cello, fiddle, trumpet, piano, harmonica and sundry percussion that lends a brilliance and power to the vocal contributions, throwing them into relief without ever overwhelming them.

Bound To Go is the fruit of Andrew's extensive research into old songbooks and collections, and he's unearthed some fabulous music quite a bit of it unfamiliar to me. The majority of the disc's 35 tracks are quite short, but such is the nature and diversity of the selections that the listener neither feels shortchanged nor gets the chance to be bored. The accompanying page booklet contains exhaustive notes, bibliography and discography, all prefaced by what amounts to a mini-thesis by Andrew which does so much more than merely expound his motivation for the project - for it's a labour of love which has its roots in his mother's own involvement in activism.

In accordance with Andrew's opening statement "folk songs carry the emotional truth of our history", every piece on the disc whether a concise, pithy rhyme or holler, or the extended chain-gang lament No More Cane On The Brazos is sung with entirely appropriate integrity, authentic expression, sympathy and affection, and an infectious intensity. No sir, there's none of yer vacuous happy-clappy here - this is a tremendously powerful album with a great sense of atmosphere and the deepest possible commitment that shines through both in the performances themselves and the exceptionally fine recording and presentation.

Prepare yourself for a heap of neck-prickling moments. This is a landmark release, I'm convinced. This is a kind of sidestep for Waterbug label founder Andrew - whereas all his other releases thus far have concentrated on his own fine original songs, this is a foray into exclusively traditional sources, in this case folk ballads from Scotland. But actually it's not aeons removed from Andrew's own work, for it's still shot through with his trademark thoughtfulness of execution and his signature warm vocal tones.

Also, close listening will reveal how closely Andrew's experience of those traditional ballads informs his own writing: not least in the poetical impact, and the keen sense of structure and development, and onward progress within a song - that's in every sense, not just in how to tell a story and keep listeners' attention. We learn from Andrew's pithy yet informative booklet notes that he grew up listening to Ewan MacColl's recordings, and he has clearly taken on board the very principles behind Ewan's interpretations of these age-old tales. He recognises the ballads' unique role in the oral tradition, and has taken pains to ensure, through careful translation and occasional rewriting, the effective communication of their timeless preoccupations and morality and thus convey their continuing relevance today.

His actual choice of ballads is an interesting one; though his selection is taken exclusively from the Child collection, he intersperses some of the celebrated "heavyweights" that we know and love King Orfeo, Glenlogie, Clark Colven, Hughie Graeme, Eppie Morrie with more well-known fare Two Sisters, The Unquiet Grave and some less often heard items The Battle Of Harlaw, Telfer's Cows. This is not a CD of unrelieved doom, gloom and murder either, for there's the delectable "Chaucerian farce" of A Shake In The Basket for light relief - and several of the ballads are taken at a sensibly brisk tempo without a trace of lugubriousness!

Andrew has creatively and credibly reworked some of the original published sources - for example, Kinmont Willie one of many Child ballads collected and then extensively rewritten by Sir Walter Scott has been brought closer to the historical record of the events, while Clark Colven brings in some information from a Danish variant.

Andrew's readings are without exception intelligent and scholarly, sufficiently intense without sounding offputting, not in any way forbidding and always musical, accessible and listenable. Four of the twelve ballads employ just Andrew's guitar, with accompaniment stylings ranging from simple but effective rippling bardic chords Clark Colven to more intricate yet undistracting embellishment. Andrew's own voice is rich and his delivery and phrasing wholly pleasing; although he uses and respects the original sources, he suffers neither from his natural accent nor from any forced Scottishness in his diction.

My conclusion is that this vital and enterprising release ought to appeal to the serious enthusiast of traditional balladry as much as to the lover of quality contemporary songwriting who's keen to gain an insight into a writer's inspirations by exploring his sources in his own company. Founder of the esteemed artists' cooperative label Waterbug, Connecticut-born Andrew's also a prolific singer-songwriter and poet in his own right.

To date he's brought out nine solo albums six on CD and two books of poetry, and achieved a high degree of artistic consistency over the year timespan covered by these releases. For a good ten years prior to that first album 's Water Street , though - in fact, since the early 70s - Andrew had been busily writing songs; when in December Andrew moved back into the house where he'd written most of them and started looking at them again, he realised that he still knew them all by heart and decided to get them recorded afresh for posterity, hence this new CD.

And it proves to be a fascinating disc, a journey through Andrew's formative years as a songwriter that displays his talent as being well-formed virtually from the start. Perhaps some songs, such as Atmospheres dating from , aren't as confident melodically as Andrew's later work, but they're still interesting pointers to what he calls the "psychic" strand of his songwriting - as is Broken Boundaries, which concerns his uncanny premonition of a car accident. The 16 songs on Staring At The Sun date from between and the title of this collection coming from a line in History , and contain examples of most of the strands that have since defined themselves within Andrew's writing: image-rich poetic journeys, atmospheric portraits John's Wife , simple yet emotionally-charged little lieder like From Time To Time and I Have Run And I Have Crawled, both of which prefigure later classics such as If Andrew's songs exhibit a masterly economy and a highly developed sense of literacy, and his warm, resonant, individual baritone voice and gentle yet fulfilling fingerpicking style prove the ideal vehicle for his creations.

Maybe this release isn't the first-choice for an Andrew Calhoun album to buy if you want an accommodating introduction to the very best of his writing, but nevertheless it comes close to being representative in terms of his unique songwriting personality, all the while proving that even Andrew's early work is inspired and far better than mere juvenilia, providing a valuable insight into his subsequent artistic development. Califone arose out of Red Red Meat, from whence came founder members Tim Rutili and Ben Massarella; their approach to music-making has always been one born of a love of experimenting with sparse and unusual instrumental textures.

However, the new album betrays no sign of drying-up of inspiration, in fact quite the reverse, for it draws much of its white-heat inventiveness from the situation the band found itself in when its equipment was burgled during their last tour and they were forced to stretch the sound envelope with increasingly limited resources. Although the uniquely atmospheric qualities of Califone's previous work are retained, there's a new freshness about this latest album that seems born more than anything else out of a revitalised attention to minor detail, a willingness to take time over it, that informs the overall texture.

Folk-psych meets alt-, you could say, on cuts like Burned By The Christians, whereas the Califone cover of Psychic TV's Orchids the album's only non-original seems as natural as twilight blending into the dark duvet of its twisted nu-folk bedfellows. From the eccentric fractured rhythms of Black Metal Valentine to the layered organic experiments of Spider's House and 3 Legged Animals, mixing traditional with modern sound-sources, the fibrous tendrils of the various and different instrumental strands weave into and through the music like the roots and crowns of the album title, an apt metaphor if ever there was one.

What these guys do with just a violin, banjo, guitars, a smattering of percussion and a sensitively restrained modicum of electronica, is all pretty creative stuff. There are countless intriguing touches, too many to comment on here - you just need to listen with an open ear. Me, I think this is Califone's most immediate and persuasive album to date. Lynchpin of Smog and married to Joanna Newsom, Callahan's first solo album is only really a departure in as much as he's abdicated production, design and arranging duties to focus on his playing, writing and singing.

So, basically a Smog album then with its free flowing train of thought lyrics, chugging country flavours, and a low baritone that frequently paints him as a young Lenny Cohen. It's a comparison that's particularly striking on the talk-sing opening piano led track From The Rivers To The Ocean, a meditation on time passing where lines like 'have faith in worthless knowledge' and 'I could tell you about the river or we could just get in' sound like something Cohen might have penned with Bill delivering them in much the same fashion.

The Cohen touch is evident too on the funkier marching rhythm Diamond Dancer but elsewhere it's Lou Reed that comes to mind on the sunny lollopping Honeymoon Child. But, while there may be reference points, Callahan is undeniably his own man and now, trading with his own name, this is an small but individual pleasure. Following on from his EP of three years back, Birmingham singer-songwriter Calvert not the Vex Red drummer, ok recorded parts of his debut album at the Royal Academy of Music and a small church in native Moseley.

That gives you a rough idea of where he's coming from. Starlight sounding almost like a traditional troubadour number, it's dreamy, reflective sadness veined romantic stuff, Calvert's finger-picking guitar trickling like raindrops after the storm. Images of autumn gardens, wooded lanes, potting sheds, allotments and all things quintessentially old fashioned England tumble into the head as he sings of sitting watching ducks on Sunday morning while, with just voice and piano accompaniment, the haunting Ides of March sounds what you might image English spirituals to sound like if such things existed, while with big orchestration and a bigger budget Last Orders could easily translate into the sort of stadium sweller beloved of Coldplay.

He's happier though to shoot for more modest targets. I'd say the new Tom McRae would be about right. I don't know if Paul means to be prophetic on Let My Guitar Talk but, believe it or not, he actually turns in one of his better vocals on this shuffling blues. It's Too Late is middle of the road soft rock and doesn't really get going but things change for the better on the slinky and smooth When The Night Comes - this is one of the album's highlights. The theme stays on the slow side for All Went Wrong so get your lighters out for this and sit back for the scorching guitar. There's some Kansas style swing blues on I Can't Wait Until Tonight and Paul turns in some snappy guitar as he really pings those strings.

Ain't Givin' Up is a funky blues, driven by drummer, Steve Holley but the guitar outshines the vocal again. The album finishes with a radio edit of the earlier Lady Luck. Paul Camilleri certainly has talent as a guitarist and songwriter but it may be some time before his voice grows on you. Alex Campbell - Been On The Road So Long Castle Widely heralded as one of the most influential and lasting of the folk singers of the European revival, the mighty and irascible Alex Campbell who died in was the quintessential wandering troubadour who earned a reputation as a hard-travelling, hard-drinking, hard-living man, despite which he was unarguably a phenomenal live performer of traditional and contemporary material alike.

It's been said that Alex cut more than a hundred albums during his year singing career, many of which were one-off, one-take affairs recorded live, and often of uncertain and erratic quality. It's widely accepted, though, that the cream of his recorded output, representing his peak as a writer and performer, was the handful of releases he cut for the Transatlantic label in the mids, some of which featured support from the likes of Louis Killen, Martin Carthy and Cliff Aungier.

These albums along with the largely autobiographical EP My Old Gibson Guitar, the title track of which appears here presented sparse, earthy and committed renditions of traditional songs like I'm A Rover, The Overgate, My Singing Bird, Night Visiting Song and The Unquiet Grave one of the picks of this side of Alex's repertoire was Glesga Peggy, which for some inexplicable reason didn't appear on any release at the time. A good number of these songs were even then folk club standards, and others have since become such, but these passionate, distinctively burring performances have rarely been surpassed, although one or two eg Bruton Town seem decidedly dour.

In addition to the traditional songs, Alex was wont to feature a sizeable contingent of original songs, which included evocative personal numbers like Don't You Put Me Down , and touching performances of choice contemporary material like Woody Guthrie's Plane Wreck At Los Gatos. Denny, appears on the final selection on this anthology, a second version of its title track that's taken from the Alex Campbell And Friends album. This new compilation, which benefits from hindsight-filled notes by David Wells, claims to draw together each and every track that Alex recorded for the label - three LPs' worth - although I'm unable to verify this as I'm ashamed to admit that I never actually owned the original LPs though I'm aware that many LPs gave distinctly short measure in those days.

Whatever, all of the songs already mentioned in this review are included on this handsome single-disc anthology, which stretches to 79 minutes and thus represents a real bargain. And when you've invested in this excellent anthology, you'd do well also to purchase the fine mids two-disc set of recordings taken from the Alex Campbell tribute concert which was masterminded by Allan Taylor still available from Allan on his own T Records label. What comes across more than anything else is that the project has been a real labour of love for Fil: her unreserved affection for her subjects and their songs, and her ability to get to the heart of the singers' stories and communicate it lovingly to her audience.

The series is also strongly unified both in style and format and in terms of design and presentation, and looks and sounds extremely attractive, with archive film extracts and interviews sensibly balanced and integrated. Each programme seems just about the right length, and no individual element outstays its welcome - and yet I also felt I learned a significant amount about the ladies and their personalities from these brief portraits.

The basic biographical information is fleshed out by reminiscences from an array of respected and experienced musicians, writers and broadcasters these including Mick Moloney, Colum and Tommy Sands, Phil Coulter, Reg Hall, Steve Cooney and Ron Kavana , all of whom display an evident warmth, regard and admiration for the ladies and a keen appreciation of their talents and a relevant depth of informed knowledge with often some very interesting stories to tell. Finally, a number of excerpts from the recording-studio sessions where Fil and a select few master musician friends performed key songs associated with the singers discussed set the actual biographical studies into relief and give them an interpretive context.

The first programme introduces the series' concept and rationale, while presenting a thoughtful overview: its tempting and plausible central thesis is that women singers weren't recognised as important in the performance of Irish repertoire and moreover, all Irish singers were almost ashamed of their own heritage until the emergence and subsequent popularity of these five singers; each in her own way has been deemed to contribute significantly to the ongoing folk revival while defining a specifically Irish repertoire that nevertheless encompassed both indigenous songs from the true tradition and songs from the music-hall or even Tin Pan Alley that idealised "the motherland" for the benefit of emigrants exiled in other countries especially the USA.

Each of the remaining five programmes in turn is then seen to concentrate exclusively on the life and work of one of the "first ladies of Irish song". Some or most of the five singers may at times have had songs which were common to their individual repertoires, but it's important to note that they performed in often diametrically opposed styles.

While noting that all five ladies were in their own way popularisers of Irish song and their semi-traditional way of singing even non-traditional material ensured that this got fed back into the tradition almost by default , the series also points up the contrasts between them, from the raw, but completely natural street-singer Maggie to the soaring, classically sweet bel-canto soprano and elegant harpistry of Mary; the wild, unbridled charm of Delia to the lift-the-stage persona and come-all-ye inclusiveness of Bridie and the all-pervading purity of tone and Hollywood-style artistry of Ruby.

Now, one may initially be disappointed that the series and therefore the DVD too contains no complete performances of individual songs, either by the original artists or by Fil herself - although it's perfectly understandable in view of the programmes' remit and the necessary time constraints of the format. The companion Songbirds CD, being available separately, should thus by rights be the answer to one's prayers, and to a large extent it is.

The first thing to note is that it is indeed both entirely complementary to, and a logical development from, the DVD. To be sure, even if you've not viewed the DVD it stands alone as a totally lovely collection of songs, affectionately performed by Fil in her characteristically warm, sensitive yet commanding vocal style someone once dubbed Fil "a third McGarrigle", and not without some justification.

The songs all suit her down to the ground, and she luxuriates mildly in the expression of these old-fashioned sentiments the DVD extracts show just how much she revels in singing them, but you can hear it on the audio tracks too. Fil also benefits enormously from the gently-conceived and ultra-sympathetic musical accompaniment courtesy of a worthy crew that includes her percussionist-husband Tom McFarland, James Blennerhassett bass , Brendan Emmett guitars, mandolin, banjo , Seamus Brett keyboards and Brendan Monaghan uilleann pipes, whistles.

I might well single out Steve's embellishments for special mention, but truth to tell they're all exemplary in their taste and ambience. Fil can through her own masterful reinterpretations justifiably lay claim to being a contemporary equivalent of the celebrated "first ladies", you might say.

I realise that the CD is over an hour long already, but it's a glorious length and I for one would easily have welcomed extra tracks. More in the way of a missed opportunity though, surely the bonus-material space on the DVD could better have been used for these additional songs instead it presents five audio-only tracks taken from two of Fil's previous studio albums and unrelated to the Songbirds project. One other, more minor point regarding the CD: although all the songs included therein are taken from the repertoires of the various singers portrayed, the booklet notes don't always specify which singer is primarily associated with which song.

But as for the remainder, well without having seen either the TV series or the DVD we're left guessing just a bit tho' you won't necessarily think that matters a lot when several of the songs were common to more than one of the singers. In any case though, Fil's own lovingly-turned performances are likely to inspire listeners to investigate the original recordings of the "first ladies".

The above reservations notwithstanding, the whole project DVD and CD has proved immensely worthwhile; the discs are great value as they stand, and all credit to Fil and Tom for their initiative and skill in producing what amounts to such an intensely rewarding and treasurable experience: both highly charming and uniquely comforting, and perfect fireside entertainment on all counts, I'd say.

Grant Campbell - Postcards From Nowhere Luna Glasgow born but with his spirit clearly raised in the mid-West, Campbell's debut solo album shows he's clearly picked up a few tricks and influences from years supporting the likes of The Handsome Family, Mary Gauthier and Johnny Dowd. He's never opened for Springsteen but you'll hear Bruce ringing out in there too, most notably on the Nebraska flavoured The Day Your Luck Ran Out where he seems to be going in for a soundalike contest. Elsewhere his weary waltzing and Texas desert dustiness might find yourself thinking of a Celtic infused Steve Earle or Tom Pacheco but, strangely, also Mark Knopfler.

Though his tendency to try and bring a throaty American twang to the double tracked vocals sometimes sounds overdone, it's an impressive first outing that, with such songs as Church House, Restless Blues, Last Standing Renegade and the brushed waltzing Broken Jukebox King marks him as a voice and writer to watch. Following her collaboration with Mark Lanegan, for her new label debut the former Belle and Sebastian cellist has come over all folky, looking to recreate that leafy, cobwebby pastoral sound on a collection of self-penned and traditional numbers.

It's suitably sparse and spectral with arrangements employing percussion, flute and cello, at other times leaving her vocals exposed and naked, but, as is quickly made evident by the opening O Live Is Teasin' and Willows Song previewed on the soundtrack to the Wicker Man remake , her fragile voice isn't necessarily best suited to the pagan darkness of trad English folk. Take that old standard Reynardine, a song long associated with Sandy Denny, where her fey, wispy reading robs the song of its dark sensuality while Hori Horo cries out for something of less gossamer persuasions.

However, that's not to decry the whole album. Imbued with grace, there are some fine moments here. Her self-penned Yearning, with what sounds like a crumhorn in the background, is a lovely medieval courtly dance number, James a frisky instrumental tumble on the acoustic guitar while the title track offers a fine instrumental showcase for her cello playing, complemented by tinkling harp.

Likewise, the original Cachel Wood is a lovely apple orchard scented summery romantic frolic by the waterside, while her whispering a capella Loving Hannah has a rough edged innocence that compensates for the limited vocal colours and is offset by the album's closing brace of tracks, the stormclouded ominous dissonant instrumental Over The Wheat and the Barley and the narcotic haze of Thursday's Child. It works better as the "hobby album" she's called it rather than an attempt to compete with the current masters of the tradfolk revival, but there's certainly some twisted beauty in its roots.

Given the strong Americana flavours of the album, it's not much of a surprise that their mix and match of honey and gravel plays like a latter day answer to Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Well, no problems there then. It's a moody, desert nights on the border album, The False Husband sounding a perfect fit for some David Lynch movie with its snaky melody, breathed vocals and the balance between twangy guitar and light strings that counterpoint each of their verses while a clattering shuffle cover of Hank Williams' Ramblin' Man as she whispers in your ear over his dusty moan is clearly on the lookout for a Tarantino soundtrack.

It's also darkly atmospheric, wreathed with twisted folk shadows and cracked country vines Black Mountain marries a Parsley, Sage melody line to Appalachian gothic textures with Lanegan's recent immersion in Johnny Cash's American Recordings apparent on the likes of the title track, his own new song Revolver and the closing The Circus Is Leaving Town. The problem is, of course, that Lanegan's voice is so mesmerising and Campbell's so airy, that she's almost invisible on her own album. Mike Davies, February This is her 14th album and again comes steeped in her Southern roots, though this time she's behind the piano rather than her usual guitar, a musical transition cemented in the album's title and opening number, a song that, co-penned with producer Will Kimbrough, details the technical process of making music on the instrument, and, sounding appropriately hymnal with a brief sample of Ode To Joy marvels at the mystery of spinning beauty from such mechanical means.

Indeed, she's so taken with the magic, she plays out the album with an instrumental reprise. Raised a Mississippi preacher's daughter in the civil rights unrest of the 60s, both have been constant influences on her writing, and no less so here, Bearing echoes of Tumbleweed Connection era Elton John, Montgomery To Mobile opens at a late night Greyhound station and imagines a bus journey taken by Civil Rights campaigner Rosa Parkes and Alabama Governor, George Wallace, she offering him the window seat so they can "see if the view has changed'. Faith takes centre stage on the I Will Be Your Rest, a soulful ballad that calls to mind early 70s Bonnie Raitt and Karla Bonoff, while the more specific God Bless You Arthur Blessitt, again co-written with Kimbrough, pays tribute to the Mississippi travelling Christian preacher who carried a cross through ever nation of the world.

The peace of God also informs Alabama Department Of Corrections Meditation Blues which, musically what it says on the lid with a chain gang rhythm, is sung in the persona of a lifer finding freedom and peace after accepting Jesus. You don't have to share Campbell's beliefs to appreciate the passionate delivery, supported by Emmylou Harris on harmonies and Kimbrough on resonator guitar.

There's another familiar name providing input into the album, legendary Muscle Shoals organist and songwriter Spooner Oldham who not only contributes Wurlitzer but also has a song named for and dedicated to him though he doesn't play on it , Spoonerville, a soulful number that sneaks in references to his work with The Boxtops he wrote Cry Like A Baby and Neil Young.

The album's rounded off with The Occasional Wailer, a highly disposable instrumental featuring Kimbrough on bouzouki, and, with Oldham on Rhodes, Red Clay After Rain, a migrant worker's wistful yearning for the crimson stain dying the river and the 'cotton, camelias and curtains of cane' of their Birmingham home, and arguably the best track here.

It's not going to expand her audience a great deal, but for those who've followed her career over the past 18 years it's another testament to their very good taste. Opening the show with Miles Of Blues, the set pretty much offers an overview of her musical stylings and lyrical concerns, taking in folk, gospel, blues and country with songs that address social, spiritual, racial and political concerns.

And, of course, Galaxie and See Rock City's odes to the joys of four wheels and the escape of the open road. Her religious upbringing feeds into several numbers, from the playful Jesus and Tomatoes inspired by a roadside sign to the bluesy devil's temptations themed 10, Lures and Steal Away Trilogy's musings on how Nashville, Wall Street, Salt Lake City and Boston would react to Jesus if he came among them with his preachings today. Elsewhere, the South's scarred history informs her Civil Rights themed classic Crazy In Alabama and both the strummed A Cotton Field Away and the piano gospel Look Away's reflections on a land struggling to rise above a past steeped in slavery, segregation and violence.

Closing up with the eight minutes fusion of 's Rosa's Corona and Lanterns On The Levee from , she's given a rapturous response. Give it a listen. Apparently written on the hoof as ideas struck rather than her usual approach of mulling themes over before committing them to paper, Campbell's twelfth album - and striking affirmation of her American folk roots - comes with a parcel of literary, historical and spiritual inspirations. That book's setting in turn finds a thematic connection with the bluesy spiritual Color Of Love, a song commissioned by Gene Cheek to accompany the audio version of his book of the same name, an autobiography of growing up in the Jim Crow South.

There's resonance from American history too in the aching Fordlandia where, with Nanci Griffith on harmonies, she recounts Henry Ford's failed attempt to build a tyre factory in the Amazon. It's no thematic accident that it follows directly on from Welcome To Ray, a banjo dappled elegy for a smalltown "bulldozed into clay" where all that remains is the welcome sign. Another American icon fuels the church organ backed gospel Everybody Knows Elvis which links Presley and Jesus in a meditation on loneliness and the unknowable. The latter makes a repeat appearance on Looking For A Jesus which, in a duet with John Prine and featuring a clarinet solo, addresses the blurring of the spiritual and the commercial in the contemporary quest for faith.

Keeping religion in view, the upbeat, uptempo twangy Americana of Shining Like The Sun with producer Walt Aldridge's ringing 12 string in shimmering form is based on the epiphany of Trappist monk Thomas Merton while, revisited in band form from 's For the Living Of These Days which also included a Merton-inspired song , Dark Night of the Soul is informed by the writings of Saint John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.

Oh yes, and lest I forget, the title track's musing on the relative importance of what we need and what we desire derives from a quote by New York Presbyterian author Frederick Buechner. With Back To The Moon, a witty but disposable observation on American consumerism, the only blip, this makes a persuasive argument for being Campbell's finest recording since Monuments.

The greatest gift of Kate Campbell's For The Living Of These Days is that it's so well played and simply produced, that it becomes all things to all men. With it, Kate Campbell has recorded a celebration. It's a celebration of her faith, a celebration of her spirit and it's also a celebration of the power and effect music can have. Even for those who perhaps don't follow the album's core message, Kate Campbell is a passionate artist and, with the legendary Spooner Oldham alongside her, she will enchant and move you, whatever it is you believe.

If this were 'merely' a collection of folk songs the strength of Campbell's voice, magnified by the clarity and directness of the songs, would be enough to make it a great one. But it is a gospel album and as such it is a slightly humbling experience. Faith to Kate Campbell is not just a set of rules to live by, Without Him is a cry from the heart, completey open, completely honest and utterly compelling. Kate Campbell's religion is challenging and direct not wide-eyed and 'happy clappy', one sad conclusion to be drawn from those three songs is that, 2, years on little has changed.

What more can you ask of it. Having revisited her back catalogue for acoustic versions of live favourites last time round, for her tenth album Campbell's finally back behind the pen producing new material for a musical journey through the emotional state the blues represents rather than any geographical route map. As she says on the opening Miles of Blues, "the delta ain't the only place you might find sorrow on some face". No gutbucket stuff here then though she does sing 'that's all right mama' at one point on Genesis Blues , rather her familiar mother lode of folk, Southern country, gospel and pop recorded in one takes with strict acoustic instrumentation to deliver a potent organic feel that's well attuned to Campbell's rich, loamy voice.

Filtered through songs of folk surviving hard times and their relationship to the land, the roots of blues in slavery finds expression in Freedom Train which moves from an image of Moses guiding the Israelites from Egypt to runaway slaves seeking the promised land, hounded by dogs and inspired by Harriet Tubman while Free World yearns for an acre of ground of one's own to plough. Not that her own work needs bolstering. Peace Comes Stealing Slow which closes the album in fine form and features harmony from Maura O'Connell, is inspired by the WB Yeats poem, prayers by a young soldier and a homeless girl to find salvation from the world's trials and tribulations while the quietly soaring Fade To Blue describes a man who, every night, caresses the photo of his lost love.

The former is a haunting lament and prayer for payback by woman whose heart has been left dead and buried by her callous lover while, underpinned by a good old Dixie slow march melody, the latter, surely destined for staple status and a wealth of cover versions, is based on the true story of Burrell Cannon. A Texas preacher in , inspired by the Bible, he allegedly pre-empted the Wright Brothers by inventing a flying machine, Ezekial's Cannon, that flew once before being demolished en route by rail to the World's Fair leaving Cannon to determine God never intended man to fly.

I'm not sure that, as an album, it's quite up there with her defining Monuments, but it's only shade away. Campbell devotees had better have deep pockets because here's not one but three new albums. Well, two and a bit if we're being accurate. Marking a move to her new label, the bit is a remastered reissue of her debut with four bonus acoustic mix versions that includes as Trains Don't Run From Nashville and Bury Me In Bluegrass plus an alternate take of Like A Buffalo.

Nice to have, but not essential. The other two albums though are much more significant. It's not new material but, produced by Will Kimbrough, they contain re-recordings of songs that have proven live favourites over the past 10 years, one with a band and the others wholly acoustic.

Actually there's more to it than that. Portable is a musical photo album of the South, a tangle of contradictions, memories and landscapes that offer the empty mansions and hillside gravestones of Wrought Iron Fences, of widows and lonely dogs Moonpie Dreams , beloved old cars Galaxie with Nanci Griffith on harmony , crazy dreams Bud's Sea-Mint Boat and childhood confusions about segregation and civil rights Crazy In Alabama, Bus Here are songs of the South's lost promises Visions of Plenty, an achingly hymnal Look Away , yearnings for more innocent times a Southern funky blues When Panthers Roamed In Arkansas , regrets a lonesome Elvis looks back on his days back home in Tupelo's Too Far , the security of love Rodney Crowell duet A Perfect World , wistful stories of bruised souls seeking escape the girl off to See Rock City before it's too late, the cigar factory girl in Rosa's Coronas and, most personally, poignant recollections of mom and Rosemary Clooney Rosemary.

Sing Me Out, on which she's backed by Kimbrough, Dave Jacques, Pat Buchanan and Chris Carmichael on assorted stringy things and the odd harmonica and harmonium but no percussion, is less specifically themed in terms of landscape and location, but remains firmly reflective and rooted in songs of hope, faith and belonging.

rylands rocking rousing rebel rumble Manual

Here then are the uplifting Heart Of Hearts, the burping Jesus and Tomatoes, Older Angel's prayer for guidance from someone who's been round the block, Ave Maria Grotto a lovely story of devotion about a man who built a grotto from shells and broken china , the prodigal daughter welcomed home In My Mother's House, bluegrass preacher tale Signs Following, the man following God's calling and his mama's wishes in Would You Be A Parson, and Delmus Jackson, an affecting account of the simple, honest black custodian of the local church content in knowing he'd one day be welcomed by the Lord.

Death's here too in all its pain and loss; on the bluesy gospel Sing Me Out a man still mourns the death of his wife's illegitimate young daughter thirty years earlier while on the heartbreaking Who Will Pray For Junior a recently widowed mother worries about who will care for the child she more late in life when she passes away, and the jauntily closing Funeral Food notes how somehow a funeral nosh up always seems to attract those friends and relatives that never managed to pay a visit in life.

Superbly played, throughout, Campbell's achingly honest voice rings clear with the sense that these are folk and places that she not only knows, but which are a very part of the blood and history that runs through her veins and keeps her heart beating. It's enough to make you start checking the property prices. Kate Campbell - Monuments Evangeline The arrival of Gillian Welch has somewhat overshadowed Campbell's Southern Gothic brand of storytelling with its roots in the tradition of Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor and musically speaking Mickey Newbury , but as this, slightly more electric guitar driven album ably demonstrates it hasn't dulled her muse.

Inspired, most specifically on the opening William's Vision , by the folk-carvings and monumental sculptures of William Edmondson, the first African-American artist to have a solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art and veined with images of the South and her formative years as a Baptist minister's daughter spent amid the civil rights movement, this isn't as dark as some of her earlier work despite the frequent allusions to death. Progress doesn't impress her much, Corn In A Box an ironic comment on cloning and genetic engineering, New South a cynical observation on the 'improvements' brought by the likes of Disneyworld, Coca Cola and Italian loafers set to a New Orleans march.

The past - and its passing - though clearly rings an ache in her heart as evidenced by Petrified House , the emotionally affecting Joe Louis' Furniture and Walk Among Stones , a tribute to Muscle Shoals where "for one shining moment they made hit records for the world. Her voice at times akin to Kathy Mattea crystal pure, her storytelling resonant, her heart woven from compassion, pride, dignity and spirituality, Campbell remains one of the most important voices and writers of her generation and birthright. Note: while you're ordering a copy of this you should make it a double blessing and grab a copy of her last little publicised album, Wandering Strange released via Eminent , her gospel album that features four of her own songs, including Bear It Away about the four girls killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombings in Birmingham, alongside covers of Gordon Lightfoot's The House You Live In and such gospel stalwarts as Jordan's Stormy Banks , William Cowper's There Is A Fountain.

The Ideal Band was in the s one of Scotland's most highly respected folk bands, and now after a brief hiatus its original co-frontman Ken Campbell has formed a new Ideal Band around the talents of fellow-musicians cellist Seylan Baxter and keyboardist Gavin Paterson - albeit principally as a vehicle for his own original songs Ken's songwriting pedigree is well established, and he has released four previous albums to date.

This eponymous new disc is billed as "a unique blend of contemporary and traditional song from Scotland", but although the landscapes and lyrics are informed by traditional sources there's comparatively little of a traditional sound to the music herein. Launching straight into the first track on this new album Piper's Refrain , the first thing to strike you is Ken's voice: firm, ornate and rich in tone, well controlled, and cultured in the trained sense - but nevertheless highly stylised. Personally I like it - however, it's one of those voices that's distinctive almost to a fault, incorporating a trace of vibrato that feels slightly less than natural; in a way it commands one's listening, sure, but although it embodies a sensitivity and a deliberately moulded approach to line it seems curiously devoid of what I'd call onward expression in terms of conveying a song, and Ken tends to treat each and every song in much the same way.

In the end, Ken's is probably one of those voices that you either warm to or you don't - it sounds attractive on first acquaintance, for sure, and yet in the final analysis it doesn't seem to impart any special interpretive quality to the songs, in fact it almost gets in the way of the texts sometimes. These, although obviously professionally crafted and genuinely felt, somehow don't tend to remain in the mind once the playing time has elapsed. It's curious, but after listening once to the entire CD I was hard put to recall any one individual song particularly and I must stress that this is not a common reaction with me, and in this instance I found it all the more surprising given the very high quality of all the various elements within.

This problem does not, I hasten to add, stem from a lack of proficiency or musicianship on the part of any of the participants. At various points, Ken has recruited the talented Blair Cowan, Wendy Weatherby, Stevie Lawrence and Hamish Moore all of whom he's collaborated with over the years to further embellish the already richly textured backings from Seylan and Gavin. The performances are without exception solid, highly musical and well-coordinated, and they receive a supremely polished, state-of-the-art studio recording without a single note or nuance out of place.

I feel convinced that the combination of these often quite sugary textures and Ken's own ultra-smooth vocal tone just dilutes or even smothers any impact the lyrics might have had the chance of making. Lyrics are available on Ken's website, which is helpful - and perusal of these shows them to be well-written, with a keen sense of history and its impact on the present.

Although most of the tracks on the CD are recent compositions of Ken's, The Old Time is a re-recording of Ken's earlier setting of two Christina Rossetti poems, while River Song is an appealing Paul Metsers cover; but even the one purely instrumental track which combines a retreat march with a Norwegian tune seems to fail to ignite the passions. It all seems just too calculated, as if smooth playing and singing, a gorgeous glossy sound and high production values were everything one needed for a satisfying CD. If, you happen to have seen this as a tape of the TV show, you'll also be pleased to know that the DVD features the extended full version of the show with no less than eight songs that weren't included in the broadcast.

Calexico - Feast of Wire City Slang Always providing a welcome blend of bluesy Mariachi desert rock Americana and border stories, this is easily their finest album yet with its mix of cinematic epic and atmospheric sparsity. Peppered with instrumental interludes, it scuffs its dust blown heart through such downbeat visions as Sunken Waltz and the plaintively sad Not Even Stevie Nicks -where Joey Burns shows off his rarely heard falsetto - and the hushed spook of Woven Birds. But while Across The Wire may be a typical brass hued Calexico TexMex number they also pull a few rugs from under the feet of expectations with the jazztronics Attack El Robot!

They've also just lifted one of the album's stand outs, the string drenched , heavy limbed melancholy of Black Heart, for an EP of reworks and remixes that include a jazz dub version of that, a 3am smoky cellar sax mourning retool of Robot and the Go Tan Project's samba lurch of Quattro. Harp player Alvin 'Big Al' Calhoun and guitarist Henry Townsend get together for this August session that was recorded in Townsend's home in St Louis, a fact that only adds to the charm of the album.

The session, recorded by Arcola founder Bob West, was suggested by Townsend after West had recorded him earlier that month. The result was Harmonica Blues and it is a great example of the art of harmonica playing. Calhoun takes on the vocal duties for the first half of the album and his smokey voice compliments his harp and Townsend's, sometime sparse, yet effective, guitar style. Black Panther is a good, powerful opener with both guys on form and is followed by the often covered and probably not too politically correct nowadays, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl - good version though.

The instrumental Al's Boogie-Woogie shows all of the facets of Calhoun's playing and his songwriting skill is shown on Buy Me An Airplane, the only track on the album written by him although if he could write this good then why aren't there more of his tracks present?

Calhoun said that if he could pick any guitar players to play with then he'd choose the Meyers Brothers who were, incidentally Little Walter's men. The last track sung by Calhoun is That's All Right, which is a wailing blues in the classic mould with Townsend's guitar twanging away in the background.

Henry Townsend and his wife Vernell take over the vocal duties for the rest of the album and the style changes from Calhoun's raw delivery to the Townsend's more polished vocals. Betty Lou is standard fare but Can't You See has the Townsend's in harmony on one of the highlights of the set. This is the track of the album and Vernell takes the lead vocal. She sings the song perfectly, Henry delivers the guitar fills with venom and Big Al plays understated harmonica brilliantly.

The closing song is the more upbeat but Tin Pan Alley wins the contest of the singers. Calhoun is not to be outdone and produces some of his best work on Old Story Blues. If this is an indication of what is in the Arcola archives then hopefully they'll be opened again soon. This fascinating minute disc is rather unassumingly subtitled "folk songs and spirituals". It contains vital and committed performances of authentic spirituals, shout songs from the Sea Islands, prison ballads and rare secular songs from the African-American folk tradition. Andrew's own excellent rootsy singing is found to be ideal to the task, and he's augmented by the individual and combined voices of around a dozen other singers, including within their ranks Bruce Soper, Tony Dale, Sue Demel, Katherine Davis, Darwin McBeth Walton, Richard Shindell, Valerie Carter-Brown and Runako Robinson and most of these get a solo!

The beauteous richness of these voices is given a perfectly sensitive amount of instrumental support guitars, banjo, cello, fiddle, trumpet, piano, harmonica and sundry percussion that lends a brilliance and power to the vocal contributions, throwing them into relief without ever overwhelming them. Bound To Go is the fruit of Andrew's extensive research into old songbooks and collections, and he's unearthed some fabulous music quite a bit of it unfamiliar to me.

The majority of the disc's 35 tracks are quite short, but such is the nature and diversity of the selections that the listener neither feels shortchanged nor gets the chance to be bored. The accompanying page booklet contains exhaustive notes, bibliography and discography, all prefaced by what amounts to a mini-thesis by Andrew which does so much more than merely expound his motivation for the project - for it's a labour of love which has its roots in his mother's own involvement in activism.

In accordance with Andrew's opening statement "folk songs carry the emotional truth of our history", every piece on the disc whether a concise, pithy rhyme or holler, or the extended chain-gang lament No More Cane On The Brazos is sung with entirely appropriate integrity, authentic expression, sympathy and affection, and an infectious intensity. No sir, there's none of yer vacuous happy-clappy here - this is a tremendously powerful album with a great sense of atmosphere and the deepest possible commitment that shines through both in the performances themselves and the exceptionally fine recording and presentation.

Prepare yourself for a heap of neck-prickling moments. This is a landmark release, I'm convinced. This is a kind of sidestep for Waterbug label founder Andrew - whereas all his other releases thus far have concentrated on his own fine original songs, this is a foray into exclusively traditional sources, in this case folk ballads from Scotland. But actually it's not aeons removed from Andrew's own work, for it's still shot through with his trademark thoughtfulness of execution and his signature warm vocal tones. Also, close listening will reveal how closely Andrew's experience of those traditional ballads informs his own writing: not least in the poetical impact, and the keen sense of structure and development, and onward progress within a song - that's in every sense, not just in how to tell a story and keep listeners' attention.

We learn from Andrew's pithy yet informative booklet notes that he grew up listening to Ewan MacColl's recordings, and he has clearly taken on board the very principles behind Ewan's interpretations of these age-old tales. He recognises the ballads' unique role in the oral tradition, and has taken pains to ensure, through careful translation and occasional rewriting, the effective communication of their timeless preoccupations and morality and thus convey their continuing relevance today.

His actual choice of ballads is an interesting one; though his selection is taken exclusively from the Child collection, he intersperses some of the celebrated "heavyweights" that we know and love King Orfeo, Glenlogie, Clark Colven, Hughie Graeme, Eppie Morrie with more well-known fare Two Sisters, The Unquiet Grave and some less often heard items The Battle Of Harlaw, Telfer's Cows. This is not a CD of unrelieved doom, gloom and murder either, for there's the delectable "Chaucerian farce" of A Shake In The Basket for light relief - and several of the ballads are taken at a sensibly brisk tempo without a trace of lugubriousness!

Andrew has creatively and credibly reworked some of the original published sources - for example, Kinmont Willie one of many Child ballads collected and then extensively rewritten by Sir Walter Scott has been brought closer to the historical record of the events, while Clark Colven brings in some information from a Danish variant.

Andrew's readings are without exception intelligent and scholarly, sufficiently intense without sounding offputting, not in any way forbidding and always musical, accessible and listenable. Four of the twelve ballads employ just Andrew's guitar, with accompaniment stylings ranging from simple but effective rippling bardic chords Clark Colven to more intricate yet undistracting embellishment. Andrew's own voice is rich and his delivery and phrasing wholly pleasing; although he uses and respects the original sources, he suffers neither from his natural accent nor from any forced Scottishness in his diction.

My conclusion is that this vital and enterprising release ought to appeal to the serious enthusiast of traditional balladry as much as to the lover of quality contemporary songwriting who's keen to gain an insight into a writer's inspirations by exploring his sources in his own company. Founder of the esteemed artists' cooperative label Waterbug, Connecticut-born Andrew's also a prolific singer-songwriter and poet in his own right. To date he's brought out nine solo albums six on CD and two books of poetry, and achieved a high degree of artistic consistency over the year timespan covered by these releases.

For a good ten years prior to that first album 's Water Street , though - in fact, since the early 70s - Andrew had been busily writing songs; when in December Andrew moved back into the house where he'd written most of them and started looking at them again, he realised that he still knew them all by heart and decided to get them recorded afresh for posterity, hence this new CD. And it proves to be a fascinating disc, a journey through Andrew's formative years as a songwriter that displays his talent as being well-formed virtually from the start.

Perhaps some songs, such as Atmospheres dating from , aren't as confident melodically as Andrew's later work, but they're still interesting pointers to what he calls the "psychic" strand of his songwriting - as is Broken Boundaries, which concerns his uncanny premonition of a car accident. The 16 songs on Staring At The Sun date from between and the title of this collection coming from a line in History , and contain examples of most of the strands that have since defined themselves within Andrew's writing: image-rich poetic journeys, atmospheric portraits John's Wife , simple yet emotionally-charged little lieder like From Time To Time and I Have Run And I Have Crawled, both of which prefigure later classics such as If Andrew's songs exhibit a masterly economy and a highly developed sense of literacy, and his warm, resonant, individual baritone voice and gentle yet fulfilling fingerpicking style prove the ideal vehicle for his creations.

Maybe this release isn't the first-choice for an Andrew Calhoun album to buy if you want an accommodating introduction to the very best of his writing, but nevertheless it comes close to being representative in terms of his unique songwriting personality, all the while proving that even Andrew's early work is inspired and far better than mere juvenilia, providing a valuable insight into his subsequent artistic development.

Califone arose out of Red Red Meat, from whence came founder members Tim Rutili and Ben Massarella; their approach to music-making has always been one born of a love of experimenting with sparse and unusual instrumental textures. However, the new album betrays no sign of drying-up of inspiration, in fact quite the reverse, for it draws much of its white-heat inventiveness from the situation the band found itself in when its equipment was burgled during their last tour and they were forced to stretch the sound envelope with increasingly limited resources.

Although the uniquely atmospheric qualities of Califone's previous work are retained, there's a new freshness about this latest album that seems born more than anything else out of a revitalised attention to minor detail, a willingness to take time over it, that informs the overall texture. Folk-psych meets alt-, you could say, on cuts like Burned By The Christians, whereas the Califone cover of Psychic TV's Orchids the album's only non-original seems as natural as twilight blending into the dark duvet of its twisted nu-folk bedfellows.

From the eccentric fractured rhythms of Black Metal Valentine to the layered organic experiments of Spider's House and 3 Legged Animals, mixing traditional with modern sound-sources, the fibrous tendrils of the various and different instrumental strands weave into and through the music like the roots and crowns of the album title, an apt metaphor if ever there was one.

What these guys do with just a violin, banjo, guitars, a smattering of percussion and a sensitively restrained modicum of electronica, is all pretty creative stuff. There are countless intriguing touches, too many to comment on here - you just need to listen with an open ear. Me, I think this is Califone's most immediate and persuasive album to date. Lynchpin of Smog and married to Joanna Newsom, Callahan's first solo album is only really a departure in as much as he's abdicated production, design and arranging duties to focus on his playing, writing and singing.

So, basically a Smog album then with its free flowing train of thought lyrics, chugging country flavours, and a low baritone that frequently paints him as a young Lenny Cohen. It's a comparison that's particularly striking on the talk-sing opening piano led track From The Rivers To The Ocean, a meditation on time passing where lines like 'have faith in worthless knowledge' and 'I could tell you about the river or we could just get in' sound like something Cohen might have penned with Bill delivering them in much the same fashion.

The Cohen touch is evident too on the funkier marching rhythm Diamond Dancer but elsewhere it's Lou Reed that comes to mind on the sunny lollopping Honeymoon Child. But, while there may be reference points, Callahan is undeniably his own man and now, trading with his own name, this is an small but individual pleasure. Following on from his EP of three years back, Birmingham singer-songwriter Calvert not the Vex Red drummer, ok recorded parts of his debut album at the Royal Academy of Music and a small church in native Moseley.

That gives you a rough idea of where he's coming from. Starlight sounding almost like a traditional troubadour number, it's dreamy, reflective sadness veined romantic stuff, Calvert's finger-picking guitar trickling like raindrops after the storm. Images of autumn gardens, wooded lanes, potting sheds, allotments and all things quintessentially old fashioned England tumble into the head as he sings of sitting watching ducks on Sunday morning while, with just voice and piano accompaniment, the haunting Ides of March sounds what you might image English spirituals to sound like if such things existed, while with big orchestration and a bigger budget Last Orders could easily translate into the sort of stadium sweller beloved of Coldplay.

He's happier though to shoot for more modest targets. I'd say the new Tom McRae would be about right. I don't know if Paul means to be prophetic on Let My Guitar Talk but, believe it or not, he actually turns in one of his better vocals on this shuffling blues. It's Too Late is middle of the road soft rock and doesn't really get going but things change for the better on the slinky and smooth When The Night Comes - this is one of the album's highlights.

The theme stays on the slow side for All Went Wrong so get your lighters out for this and sit back for the scorching guitar. There's some Kansas style swing blues on I Can't Wait Until Tonight and Paul turns in some snappy guitar as he really pings those strings.

Ain't Givin' Up is a funky blues, driven by drummer, Steve Holley but the guitar outshines the vocal again. The album finishes with a radio edit of the earlier Lady Luck. Paul Camilleri certainly has talent as a guitarist and songwriter but it may be some time before his voice grows on you.

Alex Campbell - Been On The Road So Long Castle Widely heralded as one of the most influential and lasting of the folk singers of the European revival, the mighty and irascible Alex Campbell who died in was the quintessential wandering troubadour who earned a reputation as a hard-travelling, hard-drinking, hard-living man, despite which he was unarguably a phenomenal live performer of traditional and contemporary material alike.

It's been said that Alex cut more than a hundred albums during his year singing career, many of which were one-off, one-take affairs recorded live, and often of uncertain and erratic quality. It's widely accepted, though, that the cream of his recorded output, representing his peak as a writer and performer, was the handful of releases he cut for the Transatlantic label in the mids, some of which featured support from the likes of Louis Killen, Martin Carthy and Cliff Aungier. These albums along with the largely autobiographical EP My Old Gibson Guitar, the title track of which appears here presented sparse, earthy and committed renditions of traditional songs like I'm A Rover, The Overgate, My Singing Bird, Night Visiting Song and The Unquiet Grave one of the picks of this side of Alex's repertoire was Glesga Peggy, which for some inexplicable reason didn't appear on any release at the time.

A good number of these songs were even then folk club standards, and others have since become such, but these passionate, distinctively burring performances have rarely been surpassed, although one or two eg Bruton Town seem decidedly dour. In addition to the traditional songs, Alex was wont to feature a sizeable contingent of original songs, which included evocative personal numbers like Don't You Put Me Down , and touching performances of choice contemporary material like Woody Guthrie's Plane Wreck At Los Gatos.

Denny, appears on the final selection on this anthology, a second version of its title track that's taken from the Alex Campbell And Friends album. This new compilation, which benefits from hindsight-filled notes by David Wells, claims to draw together each and every track that Alex recorded for the label - three LPs' worth - although I'm unable to verify this as I'm ashamed to admit that I never actually owned the original LPs though I'm aware that many LPs gave distinctly short measure in those days. Whatever, all of the songs already mentioned in this review are included on this handsome single-disc anthology, which stretches to 79 minutes and thus represents a real bargain.

And when you've invested in this excellent anthology, you'd do well also to purchase the fine mids two-disc set of recordings taken from the Alex Campbell tribute concert which was masterminded by Allan Taylor still available from Allan on his own T Records label. What comes across more than anything else is that the project has been a real labour of love for Fil: her unreserved affection for her subjects and their songs, and her ability to get to the heart of the singers' stories and communicate it lovingly to her audience.

The series is also strongly unified both in style and format and in terms of design and presentation, and looks and sounds extremely attractive, with archive film extracts and interviews sensibly balanced and integrated. Each programme seems just about the right length, and no individual element outstays its welcome - and yet I also felt I learned a significant amount about the ladies and their personalities from these brief portraits.

The basic biographical information is fleshed out by reminiscences from an array of respected and experienced musicians, writers and broadcasters these including Mick Moloney, Colum and Tommy Sands, Phil Coulter, Reg Hall, Steve Cooney and Ron Kavana , all of whom display an evident warmth, regard and admiration for the ladies and a keen appreciation of their talents and a relevant depth of informed knowledge with often some very interesting stories to tell.

Finally, a number of excerpts from the recording-studio sessions where Fil and a select few master musician friends performed key songs associated with the singers discussed set the actual biographical studies into relief and give them an interpretive context. The first programme introduces the series' concept and rationale, while presenting a thoughtful overview: its tempting and plausible central thesis is that women singers weren't recognised as important in the performance of Irish repertoire and moreover, all Irish singers were almost ashamed of their own heritage until the emergence and subsequent popularity of these five singers; each in her own way has been deemed to contribute significantly to the ongoing folk revival while defining a specifically Irish repertoire that nevertheless encompassed both indigenous songs from the true tradition and songs from the music-hall or even Tin Pan Alley that idealised "the motherland" for the benefit of emigrants exiled in other countries especially the USA.

Each of the remaining five programmes in turn is then seen to concentrate exclusively on the life and work of one of the "first ladies of Irish song". Some or most of the five singers may at times have had songs which were common to their individual repertoires, but it's important to note that they performed in often diametrically opposed styles. While noting that all five ladies were in their own way popularisers of Irish song and their semi-traditional way of singing even non-traditional material ensured that this got fed back into the tradition almost by default , the series also points up the contrasts between them, from the raw, but completely natural street-singer Maggie to the soaring, classically sweet bel-canto soprano and elegant harpistry of Mary; the wild, unbridled charm of Delia to the lift-the-stage persona and come-all-ye inclusiveness of Bridie and the all-pervading purity of tone and Hollywood-style artistry of Ruby.

Now, one may initially be disappointed that the series and therefore the DVD too contains no complete performances of individual songs, either by the original artists or by Fil herself - although it's perfectly understandable in view of the programmes' remit and the necessary time constraints of the format. The companion Songbirds CD, being available separately, should thus by rights be the answer to one's prayers, and to a large extent it is. The first thing to note is that it is indeed both entirely complementary to, and a logical development from, the DVD.

To be sure, even if you've not viewed the DVD it stands alone as a totally lovely collection of songs, affectionately performed by Fil in her characteristically warm, sensitive yet commanding vocal style someone once dubbed Fil "a third McGarrigle", and not without some justification. The songs all suit her down to the ground, and she luxuriates mildly in the expression of these old-fashioned sentiments the DVD extracts show just how much she revels in singing them, but you can hear it on the audio tracks too.

Fil also benefits enormously from the gently-conceived and ultra-sympathetic musical accompaniment courtesy of a worthy crew that includes her percussionist-husband Tom McFarland, James Blennerhassett bass , Brendan Emmett guitars, mandolin, banjo , Seamus Brett keyboards and Brendan Monaghan uilleann pipes, whistles. I might well single out Steve's embellishments for special mention, but truth to tell they're all exemplary in their taste and ambience.

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Fil can through her own masterful reinterpretations justifiably lay claim to being a contemporary equivalent of the celebrated "first ladies", you might say. I realise that the CD is over an hour long already, but it's a glorious length and I for one would easily have welcomed extra tracks. More in the way of a missed opportunity though, surely the bonus-material space on the DVD could better have been used for these additional songs instead it presents five audio-only tracks taken from two of Fil's previous studio albums and unrelated to the Songbirds project.

One other, more minor point regarding the CD: although all the songs included therein are taken from the repertoires of the various singers portrayed, the booklet notes don't always specify which singer is primarily associated with which song. But as for the remainder, well without having seen either the TV series or the DVD we're left guessing just a bit tho' you won't necessarily think that matters a lot when several of the songs were common to more than one of the singers.

In any case though, Fil's own lovingly-turned performances are likely to inspire listeners to investigate the original recordings of the "first ladies". The above reservations notwithstanding, the whole project DVD and CD has proved immensely worthwhile; the discs are great value as they stand, and all credit to Fil and Tom for their initiative and skill in producing what amounts to such an intensely rewarding and treasurable experience: both highly charming and uniquely comforting, and perfect fireside entertainment on all counts, I'd say.

Grant Campbell - Postcards From Nowhere Luna Glasgow born but with his spirit clearly raised in the mid-West, Campbell's debut solo album shows he's clearly picked up a few tricks and influences from years supporting the likes of The Handsome Family, Mary Gauthier and Johnny Dowd. He's never opened for Springsteen but you'll hear Bruce ringing out in there too, most notably on the Nebraska flavoured The Day Your Luck Ran Out where he seems to be going in for a soundalike contest. Elsewhere his weary waltzing and Texas desert dustiness might find yourself thinking of a Celtic infused Steve Earle or Tom Pacheco but, strangely, also Mark Knopfler.

Though his tendency to try and bring a throaty American twang to the double tracked vocals sometimes sounds overdone, it's an impressive first outing that, with such songs as Church House, Restless Blues, Last Standing Renegade and the brushed waltzing Broken Jukebox King marks him as a voice and writer to watch. Following her collaboration with Mark Lanegan, for her new label debut the former Belle and Sebastian cellist has come over all folky, looking to recreate that leafy, cobwebby pastoral sound on a collection of self-penned and traditional numbers. It's suitably sparse and spectral with arrangements employing percussion, flute and cello, at other times leaving her vocals exposed and naked, but, as is quickly made evident by the opening O Live Is Teasin' and Willows Song previewed on the soundtrack to the Wicker Man remake , her fragile voice isn't necessarily best suited to the pagan darkness of trad English folk.

Take that old standard Reynardine, a song long associated with Sandy Denny, where her fey, wispy reading robs the song of its dark sensuality while Hori Horo cries out for something of less gossamer persuasions. However, that's not to decry the whole album. Imbued with grace, there are some fine moments here. Her self-penned Yearning, with what sounds like a crumhorn in the background, is a lovely medieval courtly dance number, James a frisky instrumental tumble on the acoustic guitar while the title track offers a fine instrumental showcase for her cello playing, complemented by tinkling harp.

Likewise, the original Cachel Wood is a lovely apple orchard scented summery romantic frolic by the waterside, while her whispering a capella Loving Hannah has a rough edged innocence that compensates for the limited vocal colours and is offset by the album's closing brace of tracks, the stormclouded ominous dissonant instrumental Over The Wheat and the Barley and the narcotic haze of Thursday's Child. It works better as the "hobby album" she's called it rather than an attempt to compete with the current masters of the tradfolk revival, but there's certainly some twisted beauty in its roots.

Given the strong Americana flavours of the album, it's not much of a surprise that their mix and match of honey and gravel plays like a latter day answer to Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. Well, no problems there then. It's a moody, desert nights on the border album, The False Husband sounding a perfect fit for some David Lynch movie with its snaky melody, breathed vocals and the balance between twangy guitar and light strings that counterpoint each of their verses while a clattering shuffle cover of Hank Williams' Ramblin' Man as she whispers in your ear over his dusty moan is clearly on the lookout for a Tarantino soundtrack.

It's also darkly atmospheric, wreathed with twisted folk shadows and cracked country vines Black Mountain marries a Parsley, Sage melody line to Appalachian gothic textures with Lanegan's recent immersion in Johnny Cash's American Recordings apparent on the likes of the title track, his own new song Revolver and the closing The Circus Is Leaving Town. The problem is, of course, that Lanegan's voice is so mesmerising and Campbell's so airy, that she's almost invisible on her own album.

Mike Davies, February This is her 14th album and again comes steeped in her Southern roots, though this time she's behind the piano rather than her usual guitar, a musical transition cemented in the album's title and opening number, a song that, co-penned with producer Will Kimbrough, details the technical process of making music on the instrument, and, sounding appropriately hymnal with a brief sample of Ode To Joy marvels at the mystery of spinning beauty from such mechanical means.

Indeed, she's so taken with the magic, she plays out the album with an instrumental reprise. Raised a Mississippi preacher's daughter in the civil rights unrest of the 60s, both have been constant influences on her writing, and no less so here, Bearing echoes of Tumbleweed Connection era Elton John, Montgomery To Mobile opens at a late night Greyhound station and imagines a bus journey taken by Civil Rights campaigner Rosa Parkes and Alabama Governor, George Wallace, she offering him the window seat so they can "see if the view has changed'.

Faith takes centre stage on the I Will Be Your Rest, a soulful ballad that calls to mind early 70s Bonnie Raitt and Karla Bonoff, while the more specific God Bless You Arthur Blessitt, again co-written with Kimbrough, pays tribute to the Mississippi travelling Christian preacher who carried a cross through ever nation of the world. The peace of God also informs Alabama Department Of Corrections Meditation Blues which, musically what it says on the lid with a chain gang rhythm, is sung in the persona of a lifer finding freedom and peace after accepting Jesus.

You don't have to share Campbell's beliefs to appreciate the passionate delivery, supported by Emmylou Harris on harmonies and Kimbrough on resonator guitar. There's another familiar name providing input into the album, legendary Muscle Shoals organist and songwriter Spooner Oldham who not only contributes Wurlitzer but also has a song named for and dedicated to him though he doesn't play on it , Spoonerville, a soulful number that sneaks in references to his work with The Boxtops he wrote Cry Like A Baby and Neil Young.

The album's rounded off with The Occasional Wailer, a highly disposable instrumental featuring Kimbrough on bouzouki, and, with Oldham on Rhodes, Red Clay After Rain, a migrant worker's wistful yearning for the crimson stain dying the river and the 'cotton, camelias and curtains of cane' of their Birmingham home, and arguably the best track here. It's not going to expand her audience a great deal, but for those who've followed her career over the past 18 years it's another testament to their very good taste.

Opening the show with Miles Of Blues, the set pretty much offers an overview of her musical stylings and lyrical concerns, taking in folk, gospel, blues and country with songs that address social, spiritual, racial and political concerns. And, of course, Galaxie and See Rock City's odes to the joys of four wheels and the escape of the open road. Her religious upbringing feeds into several numbers, from the playful Jesus and Tomatoes inspired by a roadside sign to the bluesy devil's temptations themed 10, Lures and Steal Away Trilogy's musings on how Nashville, Wall Street, Salt Lake City and Boston would react to Jesus if he came among them with his preachings today.

Elsewhere, the South's scarred history informs her Civil Rights themed classic Crazy In Alabama and both the strummed A Cotton Field Away and the piano gospel Look Away's reflections on a land struggling to rise above a past steeped in slavery, segregation and violence. Closing up with the eight minutes fusion of 's Rosa's Corona and Lanterns On The Levee from , she's given a rapturous response. Give it a listen. Apparently written on the hoof as ideas struck rather than her usual approach of mulling themes over before committing them to paper, Campbell's twelfth album - and striking affirmation of her American folk roots - comes with a parcel of literary, historical and spiritual inspirations.

That book's setting in turn finds a thematic connection with the bluesy spiritual Color Of Love, a song commissioned by Gene Cheek to accompany the audio version of his book of the same name, an autobiography of growing up in the Jim Crow South. There's resonance from American history too in the aching Fordlandia where, with Nanci Griffith on harmonies, she recounts Henry Ford's failed attempt to build a tyre factory in the Amazon.

It's no thematic accident that it follows directly on from Welcome To Ray, a banjo dappled elegy for a smalltown "bulldozed into clay" where all that remains is the welcome sign. Another American icon fuels the church organ backed gospel Everybody Knows Elvis which links Presley and Jesus in a meditation on loneliness and the unknowable. The latter makes a repeat appearance on Looking For A Jesus which, in a duet with John Prine and featuring a clarinet solo, addresses the blurring of the spiritual and the commercial in the contemporary quest for faith.

Keeping religion in view, the upbeat, uptempo twangy Americana of Shining Like The Sun with producer Walt Aldridge's ringing 12 string in shimmering form is based on the epiphany of Trappist monk Thomas Merton while, revisited in band form from 's For the Living Of These Days which also included a Merton-inspired song , Dark Night of the Soul is informed by the writings of Saint John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Oh yes, and lest I forget, the title track's musing on the relative importance of what we need and what we desire derives from a quote by New York Presbyterian author Frederick Buechner.

With Back To The Moon, a witty but disposable observation on American consumerism, the only blip, this makes a persuasive argument for being Campbell's finest recording since Monuments. The greatest gift of Kate Campbell's For The Living Of These Days is that it's so well played and simply produced, that it becomes all things to all men.

With it, Kate Campbell has recorded a celebration. It's a celebration of her faith, a celebration of her spirit and it's also a celebration of the power and effect music can have. Even for those who perhaps don't follow the album's core message, Kate Campbell is a passionate artist and, with the legendary Spooner Oldham alongside her, she will enchant and move you, whatever it is you believe. If this were 'merely' a collection of folk songs the strength of Campbell's voice, magnified by the clarity and directness of the songs, would be enough to make it a great one.

But it is a gospel album and as such it is a slightly humbling experience. Faith to Kate Campbell is not just a set of rules to live by, Without Him is a cry from the heart, completey open, completely honest and utterly compelling. Kate Campbell's religion is challenging and direct not wide-eyed and 'happy clappy', one sad conclusion to be drawn from those three songs is that, 2, years on little has changed. What more can you ask of it.

Having revisited her back catalogue for acoustic versions of live favourites last time round, for her tenth album Campbell's finally back behind the pen producing new material for a musical journey through the emotional state the blues represents rather than any geographical route map. As she says on the opening Miles of Blues, "the delta ain't the only place you might find sorrow on some face". No gutbucket stuff here then though she does sing 'that's all right mama' at one point on Genesis Blues , rather her familiar mother lode of folk, Southern country, gospel and pop recorded in one takes with strict acoustic instrumentation to deliver a potent organic feel that's well attuned to Campbell's rich, loamy voice.

Filtered through songs of folk surviving hard times and their relationship to the land, the roots of blues in slavery finds expression in Freedom Train which moves from an image of Moses guiding the Israelites from Egypt to runaway slaves seeking the promised land, hounded by dogs and inspired by Harriet Tubman while Free World yearns for an acre of ground of one's own to plough. Not that her own work needs bolstering.

Peace Comes Stealing Slow which closes the album in fine form and features harmony from Maura O'Connell, is inspired by the WB Yeats poem, prayers by a young soldier and a homeless girl to find salvation from the world's trials and tribulations while the quietly soaring Fade To Blue describes a man who, every night, caresses the photo of his lost love. The former is a haunting lament and prayer for payback by woman whose heart has been left dead and buried by her callous lover while, underpinned by a good old Dixie slow march melody, the latter, surely destined for staple status and a wealth of cover versions, is based on the true story of Burrell Cannon.

A Texas preacher in , inspired by the Bible, he allegedly pre-empted the Wright Brothers by inventing a flying machine, Ezekial's Cannon, that flew once before being demolished en route by rail to the World's Fair leaving Cannon to determine God never intended man to fly. I'm not sure that, as an album, it's quite up there with her defining Monuments, but it's only shade away. Campbell devotees had better have deep pockets because here's not one but three new albums.

Well, two and a bit if we're being accurate. Marking a move to her new label, the bit is a remastered reissue of her debut with four bonus acoustic mix versions that includes as Trains Don't Run From Nashville and Bury Me In Bluegrass plus an alternate take of Like A Buffalo.

Nice to have, but not essential. The other two albums though are much more significant. It's not new material but, produced by Will Kimbrough, they contain re-recordings of songs that have proven live favourites over the past 10 years, one with a band and the others wholly acoustic. Actually there's more to it than that. Portable is a musical photo album of the South, a tangle of contradictions, memories and landscapes that offer the empty mansions and hillside gravestones of Wrought Iron Fences, of widows and lonely dogs Moonpie Dreams , beloved old cars Galaxie with Nanci Griffith on harmony , crazy dreams Bud's Sea-Mint Boat and childhood confusions about segregation and civil rights Crazy In Alabama, Bus Here are songs of the South's lost promises Visions of Plenty, an achingly hymnal Look Away , yearnings for more innocent times a Southern funky blues When Panthers Roamed In Arkansas , regrets a lonesome Elvis looks back on his days back home in Tupelo's Too Far , the security of love Rodney Crowell duet A Perfect World , wistful stories of bruised souls seeking escape the girl off to See Rock City before it's too late, the cigar factory girl in Rosa's Coronas and, most personally, poignant recollections of mom and Rosemary Clooney Rosemary.

Sing Me Out, on which she's backed by Kimbrough, Dave Jacques, Pat Buchanan and Chris Carmichael on assorted stringy things and the odd harmonica and harmonium but no percussion, is less specifically themed in terms of landscape and location, but remains firmly reflective and rooted in songs of hope, faith and belonging. Here then are the uplifting Heart Of Hearts, the burping Jesus and Tomatoes, Older Angel's prayer for guidance from someone who's been round the block, Ave Maria Grotto a lovely story of devotion about a man who built a grotto from shells and broken china , the prodigal daughter welcomed home In My Mother's House, bluegrass preacher tale Signs Following, the man following God's calling and his mama's wishes in Would You Be A Parson, and Delmus Jackson, an affecting account of the simple, honest black custodian of the local church content in knowing he'd one day be welcomed by the Lord.

Death's here too in all its pain and loss; on the bluesy gospel Sing Me Out a man still mourns the death of his wife's illegitimate young daughter thirty years earlier while on the heartbreaking Who Will Pray For Junior a recently widowed mother worries about who will care for the child she more late in life when she passes away, and the jauntily closing Funeral Food notes how somehow a funeral nosh up always seems to attract those friends and relatives that never managed to pay a visit in life.

Superbly played, throughout, Campbell's achingly honest voice rings clear with the sense that these are folk and places that she not only knows, but which are a very part of the blood and history that runs through her veins and keeps her heart beating. It's enough to make you start checking the property prices. Kate Campbell - Monuments Evangeline The arrival of Gillian Welch has somewhat overshadowed Campbell's Southern Gothic brand of storytelling with its roots in the tradition of Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor and musically speaking Mickey Newbury , but as this, slightly more electric guitar driven album ably demonstrates it hasn't dulled her muse.

Inspired, most specifically on the opening William's Vision , by the folk-carvings and monumental sculptures of William Edmondson, the first African-American artist to have a solo show at New York's Museum of Modern Art and veined with images of the South and her formative years as a Baptist minister's daughter spent amid the civil rights movement, this isn't as dark as some of her earlier work despite the frequent allusions to death. Progress doesn't impress her much, Corn In A Box an ironic comment on cloning and genetic engineering, New South a cynical observation on the 'improvements' brought by the likes of Disneyworld, Coca Cola and Italian loafers set to a New Orleans march.

The past - and its passing - though clearly rings an ache in her heart as evidenced by Petrified House , the emotionally affecting Joe Louis' Furniture and Walk Among Stones , a tribute to Muscle Shoals where "for one shining moment they made hit records for the world. Her voice at times akin to Kathy Mattea crystal pure, her storytelling resonant, her heart woven from compassion, pride, dignity and spirituality, Campbell remains one of the most important voices and writers of her generation and birthright. Note: while you're ordering a copy of this you should make it a double blessing and grab a copy of her last little publicised album, Wandering Strange released via Eminent , her gospel album that features four of her own songs, including Bear It Away about the four girls killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombings in Birmingham, alongside covers of Gordon Lightfoot's The House You Live In and such gospel stalwarts as Jordan's Stormy Banks , William Cowper's There Is A Fountain.

The Ideal Band was in the s one of Scotland's most highly respected folk bands, and now after a brief hiatus its original co-frontman Ken Campbell has formed a new Ideal Band around the talents of fellow-musicians cellist Seylan Baxter and keyboardist Gavin Paterson - albeit principally as a vehicle for his own original songs Ken's songwriting pedigree is well established, and he has released four previous albums to date.

This eponymous new disc is billed as "a unique blend of contemporary and traditional song from Scotland", but although the landscapes and lyrics are informed by traditional sources there's comparatively little of a traditional sound to the music herein. Launching straight into the first track on this new album Piper's Refrain , the first thing to strike you is Ken's voice: firm, ornate and rich in tone, well controlled, and cultured in the trained sense - but nevertheless highly stylised. Personally I like it - however, it's one of those voices that's distinctive almost to a fault, incorporating a trace of vibrato that feels slightly less than natural; in a way it commands one's listening, sure, but although it embodies a sensitivity and a deliberately moulded approach to line it seems curiously devoid of what I'd call onward expression in terms of conveying a song, and Ken tends to treat each and every song in much the same way.

In the end, Ken's is probably one of those voices that you either warm to or you don't - it sounds attractive on first acquaintance, for sure, and yet in the final analysis it doesn't seem to impart any special interpretive quality to the songs, in fact it almost gets in the way of the texts sometimes. These, although obviously professionally crafted and genuinely felt, somehow don't tend to remain in the mind once the playing time has elapsed. It's curious, but after listening once to the entire CD I was hard put to recall any one individual song particularly and I must stress that this is not a common reaction with me, and in this instance I found it all the more surprising given the very high quality of all the various elements within.

This problem does not, I hasten to add, stem from a lack of proficiency or musicianship on the part of any of the participants. At various points, Ken has recruited the talented Blair Cowan, Wendy Weatherby, Stevie Lawrence and Hamish Moore all of whom he's collaborated with over the years to further embellish the already richly textured backings from Seylan and Gavin.

The performances are without exception solid, highly musical and well-coordinated, and they receive a supremely polished, state-of-the-art studio recording without a single note or nuance out of place. I feel convinced that the combination of these often quite sugary textures and Ken's own ultra-smooth vocal tone just dilutes or even smothers any impact the lyrics might have had the chance of making.

Lyrics are available on Ken's website, which is helpful - and perusal of these shows them to be well-written, with a keen sense of history and its impact on the present. Although most of the tracks on the CD are recent compositions of Ken's, The Old Time is a re-recording of Ken's earlier setting of two Christina Rossetti poems, while River Song is an appealing Paul Metsers cover; but even the one purely instrumental track which combines a retreat march with a Norwegian tune seems to fail to ignite the passions.

It all seems just too calculated, as if smooth playing and singing, a gorgeous glossy sound and high production values were everything one needed for a satisfying CD.

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The identity and known musical character of the personnel involved in what might otherwise seem just a basic trio lineup will give more than a clue to the extraordinary character of this record, fantastically light and airy with plenty of room around the players and yet lacking in neither nuance nor depth of feeling. The record's biggest ear-opener for me was the discovery of just how attractive - and versatile - a singer Rory is, capable of tackling anything from Gaelic song and at a fast lick too!

The arrangements neatly yet flexibly straddle the divide between traditional and contemporary, with the lithe textures giving both the music and the musicians ample room to breathe. And here's a bonus for some! So Rory's bravery has really paid off here, producing a great showcase for his energetic music-making. Originally released in Canada two years ago under the name of Auburn, it's now been rebranded for a UK reissue to put the spotlight on frequent Radiogram collaborator Campbell.

Based in Vancouver but born in rural Ontario, raised on mixture of evangelical Christianity and Native American culture her missionary father was an honorary chief of the Mohawk nation and music that included Tennessee country as well as soul, African and the gospel of the regular revival meetings they attended. Drivin' You opens the set in fine form, setting the album's dominant slow waltz tempo and melancholic yearning mood as things move on through the Appalachian ambience, Is It You? She may not arrive in the UK accompanied by the same buzz of recent country songbirds, but once ears latch on to the simple gems it contains, the excellent bittersweet waltzing New Year's Eve At The Legion in particular, she's going to find herself lauded up there with Laura Cantrell.

Harking back to the 70s folk tradition and apparently designed to evoke old British vocal traditions such as church hymns, communal singing and folk ballads, the trio's fifth album takes rather more work than usual. Partly this is because the tracks, themselves rarely longer than three and a half minutes, are punctuated by three brief 'field recordings' of guitar instrumental fragments and the unaccompanied sea shanty Wesley that, while delightful in their own right, feel awkward in the overall structure. That said, there's moments of immediate loveliness. Persistence also brings rewards with Tiny Tim slowly revealing itself to be a delicate broken hearted song that could have Snow Patrol fans in a swoon while the opening Furlough is a soaring dark folk lullaby and both the gently waltzing Harryhausen and Swear It Will Snow splice English pastoral moods with country sways and West Coast harmonies.

On the penultimate, slightly hippie-like anthemic The Sky, they turn into The Polyphonic Spree and sing 'we're wasting our time again, but we make beautiful stuff. And that might be enough'. For those prepared to spend the effort looking, it might just be. Candidate - Under The Skylon Snowstorm. Following up an album based around the Wicker Man was always going to pose a few problems, wanting to hold on to the swell of interest it had created but not wishing to restrict themselves by repeating the thematic concept.

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So what they've done is to use the skyscraping South Bank's sculpture that featured prominently in the Festival of Britain hence the instrumental intro May 4th, before being dismantled by the new government as inspiration and metaphor for the construction and destruction of a relationship. Looking for a bigger sound than the simple arrangements of Nuada, using Neil Young, Big Star and The Hollies as their inspirational guidelines, the result is, perhaps inevitably, a ride through emotional ups and downs on songs that variously afford country jangles, 60s pop harmonies and surges of sonic guitar storms.

They set a high standard for themselves from the outset with Going Outside, a marvellous train rhythm psychedelic folk number that calls to mind Men Without Hats, and then proceed to not only maintain but exceed it with such tumbling nuggets of clearwater effervescence as the jubilantly in love Gardens, the acoustic strummed Moving An Oil Rig and the Young-like Lay Me On The Line.

In short, another fine album from one of the still most criminally undervalued bands in the country.

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And yes, The Granary Steps is if anything even finer a demonstration of their thoughtful approach to Irish traditional music, responding first and foremost to its intrinsic beauty. Didier Reynders. Daniel Romano. The visitors stayed with us several days. Life is a training school, from which parents and children are to be graduated to the higher school in the mansions of God. I'd say the new Tom McRae would be about right.

They get my vote though. Candidate - Nuada Snowstorm As movie buffs will realise, the title comes from the name of the sun god worshipped by the islanders in cult British horror film The Wicker Man. With the depressing news that a remake is afoot starring Nicolas Cage, here's something to cheer, a concept modern folk album inspired by both the film's themes and Paul Giovanni's haunting score. Immersing themselves in the film's atmosphere by staying in the same hotel used by Edward Woodward's character, meeting the locals and recording in such scene setting west Scotland locations as a deserted church and between the legs of the wicker man prop on the brow of a cliff, they returned home to assemble their musical thoughts and sufficiently impressed Bert Jansch to have him contribute a guitar solo on the instrumental Burrowhead.

The result's a pastoral earthy folk album but one veined with hints of darkness, evidenced from the start with Barrel of Fear and later on the in times of trouble hymnal Save Us , and reflecting the film's pagan themes on the three part vocal structured fertility ballad Sowing Song. They know how to craft folk music these boys. Listen to the instrumental Tomorrow's Tomorrow where haunting flute plays against the finger-picked guitar with its aural images of leafy glades and running streams.

Beautiful Birds is a wholly successful attempt at writing a modern day middle ages lament for a distant lover what the band terms of a medieval Wichita Lineman while Song of the Oss named for Hobby Horse that features in Padstow's Mayday revels is another instrumental, a joyous celebratory folk dance tune, before moving into the sexual awakening themed Circle of Ash , a number that begins with ominous trepidation but slowly swells with added harmonies, to become a song of exultation.

Island 34 is another guitar instrumental, bracing with coastal salty breezes and the taste of loam, and the whole thing comes to the end credits with Modern Parlance , a simple stomping slow frenzy clump around the dance hall with more guitar and banjo, horns, one long unending bass note rumble, woozy chorus vocals inspired apparently by a drunken session singing Creeque Alley and ending on the same three held notes as in the film's origial score.

Like all good folk songs, the lyrics speak as much of living now and of the writers themselves as the ostensible subject matter that inspires them, and while there's not a Carthy, Waterson, Rusby or Lakeman in sight, it fully warrants being up there in the running when it comes to considering the genre's finest achievements. The album also comes with a CD-Rom documentary detailing the band's visit to the Wicker Man's locations and their thoughts on the project. Noddy Holder famously said - It's Christmasssssssssssss" and each year we get a raft of Christmas related albums and singles to listen to for a couple of weeks before discarding.

Blues rock legends Canned Heat are no different to most bands and have released an album that spans history. There are two versions of the band here with three tracks from the original, and best loved, line-up. The bands first delve into Christmas records happened when Skip Taylor met Ross Bagdasarian of Chipmunks fame in and they decided that it would be a good idea to have The Chipmunks record with The Heat.

The result was The Christmas Song and it is so surreal. It has its humorous moments as the Chipmunks butt in and I think that by not using this song, the advertising people have missed a great opportunity with the new Chipmunks movie coming out for the holiday period.

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However, they did not miss the chance to use Christmas Blues for a Heineken advert from to There are three versions of the song on offer, a standard 12 bar blues, a painfully slow, grungy alternative version with harmonica on form and Dr John on piano and a more upbeat bonus live version with Eric Clapton guesting on guitar and John Popper from Blues Traveller on harp and vocals. Nothing is sacred as the boys turn their attention to Boogie Boy Little Drummer Boy and the Christmas cheer is spread with lines such as 'children need to guns when we got the boogie'. Don't Worry, Santa will soon be here.

Canned Heat certainly haven't. Despite the untimely deaths of three members of the band - Alan Blind Owl Wilson in , Bob The Bear Hite in and Henry Vestine in , Heat have stayed true to their mids roots and have cooked up regular servings of timeless boogie and blues. No one will ever forget their joyful scene-setting and era-defining Goin' Up The Country from the film Woodstock but - as is often the case when a band keeps on going - some albums are more memorable and satisfying than others.

Friends In The Can is in the memorable and satisfying category. It's a surprise package - it comes in a very collectable tin can. Larry Taylor guests on upright bass and Mike Finnigan on organ. There're some of the tastiest guitar solos I've heard in a long time - nothing really flamboyant, just straight-up quality with everyone and everything working together.