Published on May 13th, 2017 | by Sonic Bandwagon1
The Bandwagon Spring Round Up – album reviews
MIKE’S occasional monthly round up goes seasonal with a look at what’s blooming in Spring 2017
We’re due a big catch up so off we go, banging this one out before we get cracking on the next one. A bit of a theme with female duos as well, so in 150 words or thereabouts…
‘Verging On The Perpendicular’
Star baker of this round up is Dan Walsh, going the extra mile to give the much maligned banjo a cool and sexy appeal rather than the bad press it gets as a weapon of tortuous destruction, guaranteed to clear a room in record time. Dan’s been on the case as banjo ambassador for some time now and there’s no escaping the fact that as a musician (or otherwise) you have to pay homage to his staggering technique – worth having a look on YouTube to actually see him play rather than simply listen.
His fourth solo banjo album finds him introducing a melodic ‘The Vaults’ before unleashing a set that balances songs and tunes that showcase his impressive clawhammer style. Polkas, jigs, blues, bluegrass and reels collide with the self-fulfilling ‘7/8s’ and ‘Funky Haystack’. Several find motivation from Dan’s travels across the world and all manner of influences emerge musically and lyrically. Aside from a trickle of occasional percussion from Urban Folk Quartet pal Tom Chapman, this is Dan Walsh totally solo in a banjo carnival packed with kaleidoscopic ingredients.
TOP TRACK: ‘Going To The USA’ – where the banjo steps back to a likeable tale of Dan’s transatlantic trials and tribulations. Probably composed at border control.
LADIES DARTS NIGHT
‘Tragedies, Comedies & Histories’ EP
Local guys soundtrack the “grim reality and abstract magnificence of Northern Manchester life” and indeed fulfil the promise of a tongue in cheek reflection. How impossible is it not to yell out “Shopkeeper!” – an earworm that emerges from the half spoken commentary of an opening track that has some brilliant observations of the more unsavoury aspects of the eponymous ‘hero’. A cross between Fun Boy Three dourness and Blur and Keith Moon’s Uncle Ernie character from The Who’s ‘Tommy’, it’s a snapshot sketch of a modern day audio Lowry.
“I wanna strangle you with both hands round your neck” provides a resonates a murderous Morrissey – more cartoon violence yet an element of threat, possibly dispelled by sitting in the bath. The ranting monologue in ‘Catalogue’ provides exactly that – a log of observations with a jerky new wave jig. Like the fillings in bad teeth – trying to make the most of what remains with the inevitable profanities topping off a lengthy yet therapeutic tirade.
TOP TRACK: ‘Shopkeeper’ – “shopkeeper!” Say no more.
‘Cracks In The Room’
Orange Feather Records
Supported by The National Lottery no less, ‘Cracks…’ is an experimental collection by the “two person quartet” cleverly pictured on the cover. From the Highlands and the Lowlands, Catriona Price and Esther Swift have the honour of being Chris Wood’s debut as producer and mark it with a set that explores the social stigma of being an outspoken self-employed woman –“an unspoken thing – the elephant (or crack) in the room.”
They don’t quite go as far as cueing the assertive Billy Bragg-isms, but on the title track they undoubtedly hit the nail on the head. A outburst that runs through all the expectations of femininity or womanhood it’s a highpoint that also takes in their culture with nods to their roots and some interesting and unique vocal gymnastics.
TOP TRACK: ‘To Wait To Find’ where the bluesy fiddle adds an extra dimension to the almost unstructured otherworldliness.
JENN & LAURA-BETH
A couple of names from the Glasgow folk scene who as well as jamming together, have made an impact in other projects. Guitarist Jenn most recently with the Folk Awards winning Songs Of Separation and Laura Beth whose most often found playing in The Shee. Plenty to build from then, such that ‘Bound’ sees them formally gathering a set that represents and celebrates their eight years or so of doing things together. By definition ‘Bound’ represents both their journey and their friendship
A veritable compendium of some of their own material, some adaptations of older tunes and songs and a cover or two, notably the wistful nostalgia of ‘Wings On My Heels’ from the omni-present Boo Hewerdine. Combining the old with the new, the great Bert Jansch’s ‘If I Had A Lover’ gets combined with some Butterworth fireworks perhaps best representing the blend of their own writing and their inspirations.
TOP TRACK: Close call between ‘Shine’ and ‘1, 2, 3, 4.’/’Joseph Salters’, but probably the latter – a great little instrumental that places the duo’s instrumental prowess into the spotlight. And more importantly, self written.
Bit of polyrhythmic world folk? Why not. Another duo, this time Tamsin Elliott and Rowen Elliott entwine their flute, accordion and violin around a complex rhtym sound. A flamenco/folk/jazz guitar and some rather inventive percussion add to a cocktail which is perfect for one of those occasions sat on a balcony, exotic alcoholic beverage of your choice to hand, watching the sun go down in a Mediterranean sky. Definitely not music for a wet weekend in Yorkshire. .
‘Once’ is a lively opener and sets the mood for a set that flits between moments where it’s impossible not to pick up on the flights of one of the instruments and get hooked in. The flowing arrangements come complex and inventive, strings and flute give a Eastern influenced Ian Anderson/Tull-feel to ‘Gnomad’ before it shoots off at a tangent in a different guitar led direction. Likewise ‘Camino Del Agua’ although the ska rhythms and lounge jazz in ‘Diving’ feel like going out on a whimper. Remember the name: Solanoa – bringing a bit of verve and vivacity to Bristol.
TOP TRACK: ‘Gnomad’ – probably the one that offers up something familiar before launching on a more adventurous journey of discovery.
SOUND OF THE SIRENS
‘For All Our Sins’
Having paved the way with several EP releases here we go with the debut album from Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood from Exeter. And hey! They’ve been on TFI playing alongside Take That and U2. Not only that they’ve rubbed shoulders with greatness – supporting local-ish chap Rick Astley on his recent arena tour.
Packed with pleasant acoustic peppiness their voices combine in a way that rings the Everlys or Simon & Garfunkel on an album that’s been called “A positive spin on the sadness that life can bring.” ‘The Voices’ addresses the subject of mental health; a mad dog on the way to ruin your mind, but a minor diversion as the vibe is optimistically upbeat from the click of some maracas and a vaguely flamenco guitar in the first few bars.
TOP TRACK: ‘The Voices’ – a track with a more serious bent and a departure with a more stripped back accompaniment.