Shirley Collins, The Barbican, London, 18th February 2017

Shirley Collins holds a unique place in the pantheon of English folk music – her 1959 song collecting journey in the USA, assisting Alan Lomax, is legendary enough but she also shook up the folk scene with collaborations with Davey Graham and her recordings with her sister Dolly which brought new arrangements to old songs which were sung in an unaffected English voice.  She was widely lauded as carrying a distinctive folk purity, acting almost as a vessel for the music, through the late sixties and into the seventies.  And then she lost her singing voice. Continue reading “Shirley Collins, The Barbican, London, 18th February 2017”

Loudon Wainwright III – ‘Survivng Twin’

It’s fair to say that growing up Loudon Wainwright III had some mixed feelings about his father, a columnist for LIFE magazine which he has summed up himself in a typically forthright and candid manner: “When they first were published in the magazine in the 1960s and 70s I mostly ignored them because having a famous father had been, by in large, kind of a drag. I was the son of the famous LIFE magazine writer Loudon Wainwright. Wasn’t that great? Wasn’t I proud? Those 2 questions always led to a third, which I invariably asked myself: How the hell was I going to top that?”. Continue reading “Loudon Wainwright III – ‘Survivng Twin’”

Elouise “Deep Water” (Independent, 2016)

Well, here’s a thing we’ve been waiting for: another subdivision of the Americana genre, with Elouise Walker and her band declaring their sound to be Blackgrass. It’s distinctive from the already familiar Southern Gothic by (for the most part) eschewing the overtly “spooky” overtones and concentrating more on dissipation, disassociation and a generally downtrodden and bleak outlook on life – and then coupling that with reworked Bluegrass and Old Timey standards. Amazing Grace, to just take one such, swings back and forth like a drunken addict mumbling to herself in a cracked and wheezing vocal which carries little conviction of the reality of the salvation that’s being claimed. Continue reading “Elouise “Deep Water” (Independent, 2016)”

Mary Chapin Carpenter, Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 5th February 2017

This gig was the last of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s UK tour, and was also a first weekend highlight for the inaugural City Roots festival running across many venues in Cambridge as a week-long winter spin-off from the annual Cambridge Folk Festival. All the big gigs for this festival are at the centrally situated Corn Exchange which – unlike the Junction (the only other large venue in town) – is well set up for large seated audiences. Continue reading “Mary Chapin Carpenter, Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 5th February 2017”

Wolf People “Ruins” (Jagjaguwar, 2016)

Wolf People hold a special place in the spectrum of what we called for a while “psychfolk”. Their albums, and Ruins is no different in this, have a strong folk edge – Jack Sharp’s vocals have a clear English voice that sounds like it’s destined for some future incarnation of Fairport Convention. Songs appear with Argus-era Wishbone Ash melodies. There’s some flute in the mix. And then the edgy-pastoral Wickermanesque songs which might be about treasure hunting using a Hand Of Glory take a mighty side swerve into a harder Witchfinder General territory as crunching guitars, pounding drums and deep booming bass reveal Wolf People as a band enamoured of that late sixties heavy rock sound. Continue reading “Wolf People “Ruins” (Jagjaguwar, 2016)”

Transatlantic Sessions, Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 7th February 2017

Photo: Murdo Macleod

The Transatlantic Sessions have become an eagerly awaited annual event which sees Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham joined by an ever changing array of talents from the folk and Americana scenes on both sides of the Atlantic. Which this year means the likes of Tift Merritt and John Paul White amongst others. The format couldn’t be simpler, it’s “let’s play one of mine – let’s play one of yours – let’s do one we all know” and then repeat for a couple of hours. Continue reading “Transatlantic Sessions, Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 7th February 2017”

Matthew E White & Flo Morrissey to play Union Chapel

 

Sometimes you meet someone and everything just clicks right away – and that’s what Matthew E White and Flo Morrissey found when they performed together at the Barbican’s Lee Hazelwood celebration back in 2015. At Love and Other Crimes they duetted on Some Velvet Morning, found that they had a real musical connection and in fact things went so well for the duo that they resolved to work on a series of re-imaginings of well known songs.   Continue reading “Matthew E White & Flo Morrissey to play Union Chapel”

Tift Merritt, The Lexington, London, 31st January 2017

The weather outside was frightful but in the bijou performance space upstairs at The Lexington things were positively steaming and swamp like – to the extent that Tift Merritt offered to share her backstage beers if the crush (and there was a crush) made it impossible to reach the bar at the back. This is the kind of gig that routinely gets the appellation “intimate” – which means that most of the audience were within mere feet of Tift Merritt who was accompanied only by guitar and pedal steel maestro Eric Heywood. Approaching the microphone – which had been left tilted up by the opening artist – emphasized the diminutive stature of Tift Merritt – something which not even boots with heels of at least a couple of inches were doing much to alleviate. Continue reading “Tift Merritt, The Lexington, London, 31st January 2017”

King Creosote, The Barbican, London, 22nd January 2017

On a stage dominated by the Astronaut meets Appleman album cover graphic there is a rag tag band of musicians sporting a variety of Space Age looks – well maybe a ramshackle retro-SF space age look is nearer the mark. So there are silvery wigs the like of which haven’t been seen since Space 1999, and more silver jackets than have been gathered into a single place since the BBC stopped spray painting leather biker jackets to provide the Cybermen with their costumes. NASA t-shirts are the order of the day, and the King himself is resplendent in what appears to be a star adorned chef’s jacket as if to visually ask the question “What am I going to, musically, cook up today?”. Continue reading “King Creosote, The Barbican, London, 22nd January 2017”

Tom Paxton, The Stables, Wavendon, 19th January 2017

His last tour was billed as his last European excursion but here – just a couple of dozen months later – is the return of a folk legend in the form of Tom Paxton. This time he’s brought as musical support Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer – who produced and also helped out musically on his new album Boat in the Water.  Cathy is a marvel on clawhammer banjo – as well as vocals and guitar – whilst Marcy is a multi-instrumentalist (she plays at least fifty instruments Cathy proudly informs us) and a third voice. It makes for a different sound to that we’ve come to know on previous tours. Continue reading “Tom Paxton, The Stables, Wavendon, 19th January 2017”