Album & Single Reviews

Published on April 14th, 2018 | by Mike Ainscoe


Folk Legends – new release feature

Sonic Bandwagon proudly presents a FOLK LEGENDS interlude

A round up of recent and upcoming releases from a clutch of artists in the acoustic/folk zone that could easily fit the billing of legends.



Vertical Records (VERTCD1111)

A musician, who we can proudly label as a native of Manchester, whose contribution to any tune  or  album immediately ups the ante, delivers only his fifth solo album in 22 years.  However, it heralds each as a landmark event. With ‘Arc’, he’s promised  to do something a bit different  in the way the way the music was written, recorded and also from what anyone else is doing. No pressure then.

With John Joe Kelly and Ed Boyd by his side again, trumpeter Neil Yates and jazz drummer Alyn Cosker see the naturally improvisational nature coming to the fore. Write new tunes,  allow some freedom and record in one take seems to have been the MO for ‘Arc’. In fact beyond the core, there’s not quite a cast of thousands but a l list of contributors as long as your arm. Electric guitar, string quartet, brass all play a part but underlying are the ever evolving  time signatures and rhythms that are the McGoldrick trademark. Where ‘Trip To Nova Scotia’ is archetypal McGoldrick, elsewhere he takes on a journey that encompasses world music no more so than on the Afro-funk live track ‘Bakanoba’ and ‘Wassoulou River’ inspired by “performing with so many great world music singers over the years.”

The idea of creating a piece of work where the tag line is “The more you listen to it the more you hear” seems to be mission accomplished.

There’s a local launch gig complete with ‘big band’,  at The Met, Bury on 12th May, details here   …and on the subject of big bands…




Peter Knight should need no intro, his exploits with Steeleye Span guaranteeing him semi-Godlike status in the folk world. His work with Gigspanner – recent  albums ‘The Wife Of Urban Law’ and ‘Layers Of Ages’ have been rapturously received – has seen his profile and stock at a high. Adding

further stings to his bow, he’s set himself up in a duo as the latest fiddle partner to  John Spiers and and Just when you thought Gigspanner had hit a peak, they go and joinup with Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin (aka Edgelarks) in the Gigspanner big band. Anyone who’s been lucky enough to encounter the combo in performance will now have a terrific souvenir to own, as the advert would say, take home and keep forever.

This live album captured at Nettlebed Folk Club at the start of 2017 cherry picks from the vast library they have at their disposal.  The sheer pleasure in making music together results in several extended pieces heading towards the ten minute mark as they literally don’t want to stop playing. Hitting grooves that you don’t see every day this is progressive folk at its finest.

There’s a haunting quality as ‘Banks Of The Nile’ hangs and hovers in contrast to the full thunder that accompanies ‘Hard Times Of Old England’ and the charged ten minutes of ‘Death And The Lady’. Feel the quintet feeding off each other. Nothing less than  a special combination;  calling it spectacular would suggest explosive fireworks but it’s much more subtle than that. Hard to pick a highlight, but the thrill of the  ‘Edgespanner’ (of does ‘Giglarks’ sound better?) combo is highlighted particularly on ‘Last Broadcast’ where the familiar Phillip Henry dobro is complemented by the resonating deep percussion and some expansive high pitched Knight fiddling. The arrangement on ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’, comes complete with  imagined visions of (the legendary, naturally) Cecil Sharp wandering  in the outback, probably sweating cobs  in full suit and tie, in search of some indigenous song or other. Essential stuff.

We’ve just missed a short run of dates in April but they’ll be at a few Summer festivals and the Gigspanner trio are out in May – find details here:




Yes, that’s ‘American Pie’ (and ’Vincent’) Don Mclean. I even had the record back in nineteen seventy not so many; a totally confused pre-teen who’d heard the song on Top Of The Pops yet was puzzled by the fact that what I’d heard was only ‘Part One’ and I had to turn over the record for a confusing  and unexpected second half. Nonetheless, a lot of water had passed under the bridge till I next encountered Don Mclean at the 2012 Folk Awards held at The Lowry – the days when Mike Harding was at the helm – and Don performed armed with a guitar that was in desperate need of some tuning…

Since then he’s attained true legend status- you know you’re a legend when you get the honour of a signature guitar (the Martin D40DM). And then who should pop up for a chat as I as zapping round the  local radio channels  only the other day talking about his new album but Don Mclean.

‘Botanical Gardens’ is his first album in 8 years, possibly scarred by his Lowry experience but inspired to put pen to paper or whatever his compositional method may be (perhaps he toddles off to a shed at the bottom of his garden al la Roald Dahl) by walking the gardens near Sydney Opera House, he’s had a reawakening. Getting all philosophical and comparing the gardens to a metaphysical heaven, the songs find him in a reflective and intimate mood. Looking back on life and loves,  ‘Botanical Gardens’, all the way through to the reflective string drenched ‘Last Night When We Were Young’ (the only concession in a set of Mclean originals, almost feels like one last emotional valediction, bidding us bon voyage as he sets sails on  his tour of the regional concert halls in May.



Proper Records (PRPCD148P)

Winning International Album of the Year for her previous album  ‘Blackbirds’ in the Americana Music Association UK Awards of 2016 and taking the International Song of the Year for the title track at the same awards, we could easily paraphrase with ‘award winning’.  However, it doesn’t quite set up the same expectation for ‘Dancing With The Beast’ in the same way.

Not that it needs to. The labels “Nashville’s greatest talent” and “an Americana tour de force” could easily be reapplied to a classy  album of typical longing and exquisitely delicate musical arrangements introduced with a mesmerising ‘Arguing With Ghosts’ – a morsel that can’t fail to induce a bite,  one listen and you’re hooked. Very much in the same way that the hypnotic title track does mid album; any chance of slacking or falling away and you’re pulled helplessly back in.

Uplifted by the sentiment or the occasional shuffling railroad country rhythms, it shifts down a gear or two with the likes of the late night smoky atmosphere and slight desperation of ‘Lowlands’, distant banjo echoing in the distance and onto a new fragility in  ‘Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea’.  Having been introduced to an artist in the traditional way – not quite ‘greatest hits’ but ‘The Essential Gretchen Peters’ – a while new world has opened up. Those who’ve been along for the ride will be nodding knowingly and soaking up her latest craftings.




And there was me thinking that the only legendary Finbar was Finbarr (two rr’s)  Saunders (and his double entendres) from Viz Comic. Every time I now see the name Finbar Furey, its preceded by ‘legendary’. Even watching the 2018 Folk Awards ceremony form Belfast where he was presenting an award, he was being introduced the same way.  So a quick appraisal for an album tha’s slipped in with a UK release and a rebranding/renaming.

Waiting for the uninitiated is a Fleetwood Mac rhythm leading off ‘Sweet Liberty Of Life’ and a vocal that is totally original. One that listeners who appreciate the growls and grunts of Dylan and Tom Waits will understand. Not a million miles from what latter day Mark Knopfler is channelling  in his acoustic country blues leanings and you might picture Roy Orbison’s velvet tones taking on ‘Sarah Waits’. But that’s about as contemporary a comparison as you’ll find as the banjos and the whistles start to embellish the storytelling and complete the picture of his contribution to the Irish musical heritage. You can see why FF is up there with former touring buddies The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners and Christy Moore as an iconic figure in the Irish musical roll of honour.



Cairnie Records (IF18AWAY)

Maybe not quite yet fitting the ‘legends’ bill, let’s be a bit maverick and include and up and coming young musician who’s more than worthy of rubbing shoulders with some of her illustrious peers and redressing  the gender balance. And if we were gambling men, then would we not be looking for a good bet on someone who in due course, when we’re reduced to ashes, will be befitting of the legend status.

‘Away From My Window’ is a piece of work created alongside her own academic work, pulling together ballads, original and contemporary material along with a host of contributors and a fresh, creative approach that  make her debut a varied and occasionally unexpected treat.  Although ‘Guise Of Trough’ kicks off in a sprightly folky manner, don’t be lulled into the false sense of security that you’re about to be battered with a feast of flying fiddles and Scots folky clichés. She’s cherry picked songs gathered from her own schooling  and moulded them  to fit her own spin.

Michael Marra’s ‘Take Me Out Drinking’ has an easy bluesy feel and Aidan Moffat’s ‘And So We Must Rest’ takes it’s lullaby roots into a sensitive arrangement, yet amidst her interpretations of songs from varied sources,  Iona’s  ‘Banks Of The Tigris’ sneaks in towards the end of the album, inspired if that’s the right word, by the Syrian/Middle East conflict. A little gem of her own, it sits more than  comfortably on an album of carefully selected and arranged treasures.


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About the Author

Mike's mellowed in his old age, discovering the delights of traditional folk and acoustic music and the constant stream of new music coming through his passion as a gig-goer, music photographer and writer. With favourite artists and favourite songs which change daily, even hourly, he adds another spoke to the Sonic Bandwagon wheel of fortune.

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