Published on March 1st, 2015 | by Mike Ainscoe0
Mike Ainscoe’s February Album Round-up
MIKE GROGAN – ‘MAKE ME STRONG’
A singer songwriter from the South of England, Mike Grogan has pulled in a few big names to lend a hand with his ‘Make Me Strong’ album. Lending his presence to Grogan’s self penned songs comes one Phil Beer. His distinctive fiddle, especially on the seafaring ‘Nelson’s Blood’ is easy to spot and he plays quite a significant role throughout the album. Also making their presence felt are Beer’s ‘Show Of Hands’ buddies Miranda Sykes, and the increasingly popular Phillip Henry, whose similarly distinctive dobro and harmonica add touches of quality and finesse to the material.
It’s pretty much a Mike Grogan solo effort however, with Mike taking up a range of instruments from guitars to mandolins to piano and harmonica. Lyrically, the inspiration comes very much from real life and its trials and tribulations, and also from historical themes alongside the social commentary. The names of Thomas Carlyle and Ghandi and some of their words litter the album cover and along with Martin Luther and Buddha who are referenced appreciably in the expansive and religious boundary breaking ‘The Light Of The World’. Yeah, there is a love song in the set dressed up in words of missed romantic opportunities but there’s clearly some thought and passion in the words Grogan writes.
Strange but there are times when the MOR of Mike & The Mechanics springs to mind in the music, especially in the verses of ‘Nelson’s Blood’ which seems ever so similar to M&M’s ‘Silent Running’ in its melody! Just one of those things which gets in your head. That said, ‘Make Me Strong’ is a thoughtful and well conceived set of songs which goes beyond the MOR boundary ropes into something more considered and articulate.
Kyle Carey’s journey has been both lengthy, dedicated and all in the pursuit of the study of Celtic music and the Scottish Gaelic language. Picking up the language to become fluent and its secrets of tone and delivery, no one can argue that she isn’t suitably armed to add her own North American influence on the genre. In fact, that Transatlantic fusion is quite the highlight of this album in the way that Carey has been able to merge the influences into a blend of relaxed charm in the follow up to her 2011 debut ‘Monongah’.
It’s typified by ‘Cairistionia’, a Scots Gaelic song in origin sung in authentic tongue, yet the instrumentation, particularly the mandolin, takes it straight to the American South. In contrast, Alison Krauss’ ‘Down To the River to Pray’ gets a Scottish Gaelic translation and is set against a pipe drone in a marriage of the two cultures from a different perspective. The lush layering and gentle picking of ‘Northern Lights’ gives way to the shuffle of the Appalachian Child ballad inspired ‘Nora O’Kane’ and the travelogue nature of the album is clearly set. Closing quite appropriately with ‘Across The Great Divide’, the coming full circle is complete and closed off quite naturally.
Produced by Seamus Egan of Irish-American super group, Solas, and utilising a cast of quality players, including Folk Award nominees Ben Walker and Josienne Clarke, the overriding achievement is a subtly understated and original synthesis of traditions.
Finding himself in the music business well into his thirties after a traumatic childhood and series of unfulfilling jobs (sound familiar to anyone?) certainly gives Rich McMahon a plethora of source material for what are literally what it says on the tin – ‘songs of exile, love and dissent’.
With Gerry Diver of O’Hooley & Tidow, Christy Moore and Lisa Knapp fame at the helm, he’s got a producer of note to help him bring his work to life. Made up of twelve self-written songs, they demonstrate how he seems to have become more comfortable in expressing his own identity with age, something he openly admits. The influences of Van Morrison and Christy Moore may well be there and are addressed in the themes of identity and borders, personal and political, himself having been born in England and raised in Ireland. Yet there’s an element of humour which is apparent in ‘Beyond Borders’ and ‘The Imagined Nation’ which give some variety and insight into quite solemn topics. The narrative aspect of the album is quite telling – ‘Inbetweenland’ with its shuffling percussion and harmonica breaks and being told in the third person may well have some autobiographical references as well as the religious and cultural dilemmas which epitomise families and communities.
The overwhelming feeling emerging from ‘Songs Of Exile, Love & Dissent’ is perhaps in the fact that many listeners will connect on an emotional level with the sentiments and the songwriting – if they do then Mr McMahon has done a decent job.
Now this was an interesting one! Without looking at a press release or CD case and just listening purely to the music, the 37 minutes of ‘Got Me Out Of Hell’, apart from sounding like a title more suitable to a death metal band, gave a distinct impression of France, The South Bank, The Tour Eiffel, Montmartre, and heavily moustachioed cyclists in berets with onions hung over their handlebars. Definitely a full on Gallic soundtrack to accompany all the stereotypical images of Frenchmen (and ladies) that you can muster.
Described as ‘broken down roots music’ and composed by the nucleus of the band, Beth Packer and Clinton Hough. Their core instruments of accordion and guitar/piano almost immediately suggest the core sound which places the band firmly in jazzy vaudeville territory.
‘No Words We Need’ is lounge blues while ‘Dregs’ is dragged along on the back of not so much a dirty electric guitar run, but one which is more along the lines of slightly grubby. ‘Numb’ sounds jazzy and the wonderfully title ‘The Devil’s Frying Pan’ squares off the circle with that familiar Mediterranean ambience.
Certainly an intriguing little curio and local residents who pick up the Pure FM signal will have hopefully caught the band at the Roman Lakes Tea Dance at the end of February – perhaps not one you would have found on the Sonic Bandwagon gig guide, but hard to ignore when it comes to looking to present an eclectic mix.
Once you’re past Dan Webster adorning the cover disguised as the title character, complete with funnel on the head, the inner fold out bears black and white ink drawn artwork which has a feel of ‘Revolver’ about it. With The Beatles experimental and psychedelic influenced classic in mind, Dan Webster (“a hybrid of Damien Rice, Seth Lakeman and Tom McRae” – Americana UK) might not be too far from sitting in the same ballpark. Writing what he feels with no structured plan apart from connecting with real experiences and emotions through the music, isn’t too removed from what The Beatles, and let’s face it, most musicians want to achieve.
With ‘The Tin Man’ the explanation of the title is offered as being a conceptual look at life’s journeys, both metaphorical and direct. Dan explores the full gamut of rock and roll, folk and country, merging genres mercilessly as well as offering up silky ballads such as the bus ride which forms the basis of ‘No.17’ and more besides. The rollicking ‘Gin’ is heads down unabashed rock and roll while he goes into full on folk mode by dipping into the traditional songbook with arrangements from either side of the Atlantic with quite sensitive and faithful takes on ‘British Man Of War’ and ‘Spanish Ladies/When Johnny Comes Marching Home’.
It’s quite hard to pigeon hole Dan Webster, not that there’s an issue with that. Even Classic Rock magazine have picked up on him and described him as an old fashioned troubadour, which is perhaps spot on – as a modern day minstrel and carrier of song he fits the bill pretty well.
By Mike Ainscoe