This Is Tunng Magpie Bites and Other Cuts Full Time Hobby
An English folk music band that are often associated with the folktronica genre, due to the electronic influences evident in some of their work. Tunng are often noted for their use of strange instruments, unusual tunings and changes in timing and tempo. A prime example is Death And The Maiden Retold, a reworking of a traditional folk song, arranged in a uniquely different way...
This is album release number seven and is comprised of outtakes, special edition 7 inches and hidden tracks, old bits n’ pieces left off earlier projects and whatever else they came across in their vaults. The eleven tracks are selected across the years of their recording career and span 2004 to 2018. Two songs, Heatwave and Bank Holiday were left off the most recent release, Songs You Make At Night while a cover version of the Tim Buckley song, No Man Can Find The War is just an oddly, weird joy.
The arrangements are quirky and avant-garde but somehow it all holds together with a kind of pastoral elegance reminiscent of Old England in more innocent times. Bodies is an example of this and the strange Pool Beneath The Pond suggests medieval chant music with added sound effects. Magpie Bites is another addictive whacky piece of magic, reminding me of Gentle Giant. Band Stand is a slice of elegant pastoral electronica and Clump, like the whole project, is gently addictive on repeated playing. Check out this ground-breaking band!
Review by Paul McGee
Rupert Wates. Full Circle. Self Release
In early 2008 we posted a review of this artist’s last release, The Lights Of Paris, an impressive set of songs that dealt with the issues of our times in a time-honoured Folk tradition. This time out he returns to his roots – just voice and Lowden guitars, recorded live at Kevin Kelly's Workshoppe East Studios in Huntington, New York. Wates produced the project himself and all 11 tracks were completed in less than five hours, with no overdubs, live in the studio. It’s his tenth release over a career that has delivered much quality.
His rich vocal style recalls, in part, Richard Thompson, especially on Driverless Train, a song that reflects on a life and a society that is out of control and moving with no real direction. There are also echoes of an early John Martyn and tracks like The Sun On Clear Waters speaks of the legacy we are leaving for our children and the hope that young love and the simple beauty of nature can endure.
His guitar playing is of the highest order and his technical prowess on the instrument is perfectly matched by his flawless vocal delivery. Wates was born in London and has been a full-time songwriter since the late 1990s, His music has a timeless quality and tracks like God Knows and Easy Come & Easy Go, examine the circle of life and the passage of time with more questions than answers, but with a strong philosophy that sharing love and fellowship is what lies at the heart of everything. Highly recommended.
Review by Paul McGee
Jake Xerxes Fussell Out of Sight Paradise of Bachelors
This talented musician has been releasing music of real quality since his debut recording appeared in 2015. However, long before this, Fussell was quietly learning his craft through early influences; originally his Father, Fred C. Fussell, a folklorist, curator, and photographer. He travelled across the American Southeast, documenting traditional vernacular culture, which included recording blues and old-time musicians; all of which had a profound impact on Jake. Growing up in Colombus, Georgia, he also travelled and lived in California and Mississippi, before settling in Durham, North Carolina where he currently resides. He focused on narrative folksongs and deepened his studies while honing his guitar skills under the guidance of blues legend Precious Bryant.
On Out of Sight, is the third album and as both guitarist and singer, Fussell displays a gently confident knack of interpreting the nine tracks selected from a variety of sources. Using a full band that features Nathan Bowles (drums), Casey Toll (bass), Nathan Golub (pedal steel), Libby Rodenbough (violin, vocals) and James Anthony Wallace (piano, organ), the understated playing a sheer delight throughout and the ensemble really capture the evocative sound of these traditional tunes that stretch from 1900.
There are songs about fishmongers (The River Of St. John’s), ship deckhands (Oh Captain), Cotton Mill workers (Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues) and the instrumentals Three Ravens and 16-20 showcase the superb fingerstyle of Fussell on guitar. The production is uncluttered and clear as a bell, evoking a timeless quality to the melodies and the understated playing.
Michael Was Hearty, The Rainbow Willow, Jubilee and Drinking Of The Wine all contemplate the relative virtues of love and life with the obscure sources adding great integrity to the selection process and fastidious work of Fussell. Music to calm the soul and lift the spirit.
Review by Paul McGee
Mike Ross The Clovis Limit (Part 1) Self Release.
This is the third release from UK artist Mike Ross, a talented musician who trawls in the Roots/Blues seas and based on the evidence on The Clovis Limit (Part 1), he is something of a hidden gem. The ten tracks are of a consistently high quality with the playing and arrangements complementing the excellent song-writing ability of Ross, who also produced the project.
Kicking off with The Reason This Railroad, a slice of sweet Americana right out of the Stephen Stills songbook, with fine ensemble playing and leading into the sassy bar-room, Dr John feel of Young Man, dripping in atmosphere; the pace has been set.
The soulful blues of Pick Up Our Anchor, with Elles Bailey on co-lead vocals, illustrates a confidence and swagger with the pedal steel of Smith Curry underpinning the strong tempo laid down by Brian Irwin on drums and Derek Randall on fender bass. Scarlet Coat reminds me of vintage Blue Rodeo in full swing and is an addictive tune, featuring an up-tempo beat and swirling pedal steel.
Ross is a fine singer and his delivery on the slow groove of Blow Away is perfectly accompanied by the fiddle playing of Andrea Young and the ever-present pedal steel that duels around the arrangement. Lily features dobro, fiddle and acoustic guitar and is a gentle ballad about unrequited love with deft and restrained playing throughout.
Grow Your Garden and Ever After are Blues tinged melodies with the warm sound of Stevie Watts on Hammond Organ and Matt Dutot Slocum on Wurlitzer piano to the fore. The closing track, Driftwood, is a country ramble through the realisation that we are no more than fragile entities upon this Earth and drifting on the sea of life. The addition of four radio edit tracks is a welcome way to end proceedings and this is a release that comes high on my list of favourites this year.
Review by Paul McGee
Den of Ashes California Starry Eyed
The gentle easy sway of the title track opens this debut release and talks of leaving the rain of the East coast for the sunshine and optimism of life on the West coast of America. It sets the tone for the rest of the eight songs included here that deliver an elegant, contemporary country sound.
Ash is the creative source behind the Den of Ashes moniker and his experience in visual media serves him well in the impressive presentation that accompanies the arrival of this album for review. It is always a good sign when you see a carefully packaged release in support of the music contained within.
The warm breezes of California gently blow through the sense of lightness here, where the vocals are delivered with an easy tone and the playing of Alex Alessandroni (piano, keyboards), Lili Haydn (violin), Dan Rothchild (bass), Robin DiMaggio (drums, percussion) anchor everything in a relaxed and restful way. The presence on four songs of Greg Leisz, on pedal steel, is a very pleasant addition to a production that is both clean and bright with plenty of space in the arrangements. There is a dream-like quality to the soundscape and an atmosphere that allows the players to perform with an understated touch and economy that brings depth to the songs.
The slow tempo of tracks like Sun In My Eyes and Canyon Walls are balanced by the more radio-friendly sounds of Easy Town and Late Night Radio. Hangman channels the voice of a deceased victim of the noose and a past that haunts, rather than reconciles. The plaintive tones of Living In My Dreams and Silver Dreams give the sense of wishing for another reality where life seems sweeter and wishes come true; the past brought to life in the present.
Recorded at The Séance Room in Los Angeles and self-produced by Ash, who also wrote all the songs and contributed guitar, harmonica and vocals, the project is one that brings plenty of rewards. A recommended release.
Review by Paul McGee
Tim Carter Wishes Tree O
It’s fairly obvious that Tim Carter is held in high esteem by his fellow Nashville musicians when one looks at the lineup he called upon to collaborate on his second solo album. Well known to Irish and British audiences from visits with his Carter Brothers Band, Tim has also played banjo with Hank Williams III, among others. A native of North Carolina, he is a Grammy nominated sound engineer and now produces music projects in his Treehouse Studio, outside Nashville. While he can play bluegrass banjo with the best of them, as heard on the opening instrumental Split Lip, Tim really loves to fuse his Appalachian roots with his lifelong love of blues, rock and soul.
He plays mandolin on the love song Shivering (co-written with his wife Cindy); here he’s joined by regular band member Mike McAdam (Steve Earle, Rodney Foster) on blistering electric guitar, and Johnny Neel (The Allman Brothers) on Hammond B-3. Together they create a whopping great slice of rollicking Southern Rock - Americana at its best. Johnny Neel’s incredible B3 playing also features heavily on Tim’s original song Fatback, where his funky banjo gets right down and dirty, accompanied by Rob Ickes’ bluesy lap steel and Trey Hensley’s electric guitar. Notable Nashville players in the form of Dann Sherrill on drums and Dave Roe on bass do a good job of keeping them all under control. Another standout track is the instrumental Fungus Amungus, where Tim’s sweet mandolin lead is complemented by brother Danny’s acoustic guitar playing, aided and abetted by the great John R Burr on organ and Smith Curry on dobro. All of the instrumentals and four of the six songs are originals or cowrites. The two covers are of Dylan’s Man Gave Names To All The Animals, which they manage to make enjoyable (it’s one of those marmite songs!) and a lovely cover of These Wishes Are Horses from the pen of David Goodman, featuring Barbara Lamb on fiddle.
You might also catch Tim in his part time gig playing with Hayseed Dixie around Europe, but let’s hope he gets to tour over here with his Tim Carter Band sometime soon. In the meantime, check out this album.
Review by Eilís Boland
David Leask Six in 6:8 Self Release
David Leask is a Scotsman who has been living and making music in his adopted Ontario for much of his adult life. This album is a short collection of six songs, all written in ‘his favourite 6/8 time signature’. The well crafted songs are given a broadly folk rock treatment here by David and his co-producer Justin Abedin.
All co-writes, it’s easy to see why David has won (or been placed in) several songwriting competitions over the years.
Red Balloon, a story song about a woman remembering her mothers words to ‘let it go, let it fly’ when her balloon flew off ... only to recall this advice when her marriage breaks up and again at her mother’s deathbed. It is given a Celtic flavour with the tin whistle, flute and concertina of Loretta Reid, subtly interwoven with Rob Ickes’ dobro playing. By contrast, When You Think No One Loves You finds David singing a solo ballad with only the piano accompaniment of Jonathan Goldsmith. The struggle of a post-conflict military veteran is explored in Can’t Make It Back Home - ‘so far from heaven, living this hell’.
If you like this solid collection, you might want to check out his five album back catalogue.
Review by Eilís Boland
Ben Bedford The Hermit’s Spyglass Cavalier Recordings
If, like me, Ben Bedford is a new name to you, do yourself a favour and check out this beautiful recording from a winner of the Kerrville Grassy Hill New Folk award in 2018. A concept album of sorts, it takes the listener through a day in the life of Ben and his trusty companion, Darwin the cat. Subtitled An Illinois Prairie Story, Ben (armed with just his voice and his acoustic guitar) magically transports us to his rural home The Hermitage and immerses us completely in his world, one in which he revels in the native trees, plants, birds and animals around him. There are five instrumental tracks, interspersed with six songs.
From the opening chords of the brief instrumental Morning Rise to the gentle closer Quiet on the Green Hill, it is almost impossible not to be drawn in. Lyrically, these poetic songs could stand on their own as spoken word pieces. “Little falcon way up high, how I wish that I could fly. Then, I wouldn’t have to know the unkindness here below” (Little Falcon). Another favourite is the little vignette Morning Coffee - “The kitchen alight, the coffee is on. Fill up my mind, thorn-tree of song.”
Ben’s accomplished guitar style is reminiscent of the British 1960s players like Bert Jansch and Davey Graham. Co-produced with David Cain, the sparse production is perfect for this immersive mindful journey,
Ben is due to return to tour in the UK and Europe again in Autumn 2019 - definitely worth travelling to see. The CD is accompanied by delightful simple line drawings of Darwin and Ben by Kristin Diehl. Seek it out, then sit back and relax.
Review by Eilís Boland