Here’s the latest in Americana UK’s roundup reviews – you’ve been thrilling to Bluegrass Briefs, and you’ve also thrilled to AUK Shortcuts and now, at last, you can get all fired up with excitement for Folk Roundup which will, sporadically, be bringing you a clutch of short reviews of some of the many fine folk albums that come our way. No thought that these are at all lesser albums should enter your mind, dear discerning reader – not a bit of it. The simple truth is that Americana UK is focused on Americana (whatever that is) but acknowledges a wider world of closely related music including the music that could be said to be the roots of Americana. To maintain the correct balance the bluegrass and folk that appears is but a tithe of our coverage – but there are so many albums that come along (and we are eternally grateful for that) that it breaks our poor little hearts not to cover them.
There is one small issue that we need to address – what do we mean by folk? Well, obviously there’s the traditional scene of mostly British folk and its close cousins in translated and transmuted folk within North America. The classic example is ‘Young Man Cut Down in His Prime’ / ‘Streets of Lerado’ – same song, different situation. Then there’s new music on acoustic instruments that draws to some extent on the traditional frame. And there’s also experimental folk – be it electronic or scratchy lo-fi guitars. Some of what we’ll cover here will have some readers shaking their heads and saying “that’s not folk” and some will say “isn’t that Americana?” or “Rock?” or …. and that’s fine – they still call Dylan a folksinger and he hasn’t made a folk album in forty years. So, for good or bad that’s the remit for Folk Roundup, and that’s also by far enough chit-chat so let’s get to that music.
Kim Moberg ‘The Seven Fires Prophecy: A Suite for Humanity’: Kim Moberg is a Cape Cod, MA-based Indigenous folk singer-songwriter who wrote the songs on ‘The Seven Fires Prophecy: A Suite for Humanity’ after learning about the Anishinaabe legend of seven prophets who visited the Anishinaabe each carrying a fire which contained a prophecy for a particular period of time. The prophecies are warnings mixed with advice – the fifth prophecy for example tells of an invading culture that seeks to impose its ways. Moberg has a clear interpretation of this, as she explains: “It has been said that the fifth fire was the time of the Indian ‘boarding schools’ when Indigenous children were taken from their families by missionaries to be assimilated into the Christian white world with the goal of erasing their culture, not permitted to speak their native language, wear traditional clothing or practice any religious or celebratory ceremonies. My maternal grandmother grew up living fully in the traditional Tlingit ways in Alaska, yet in one generation—my mother’s generation—the entire culture was nearly lost to colonization. My mother narrowly missed being sent to the boarding schools and remembered having her mouth taped shut as a very young child if she spoke Tlingit in school.”
Musically the album is acoustic singer-songwriter, but the connected lyrics set it apart from mainstream concerns. There’s a spirit and a spiritualism to it, of course, but in the uplifting and pure in its sincerity way of Miranda Lee Phillips or Amy Blaschke. It’s an album that deserves to be heard as a whole, and will reward repeat listens (8/10).
Joel Paterson ‘Wheelhouse Rag‘: an album of acoustic guitar instrumentals with a distinctly 1920s feel to them as they blend acoustic blues and, unsurprisingly from the album’s title, ragtime jazz may not be everyone’s idea of folk but it follows in a tradition that goes back at least as far as Davey Graham of fast and intricate finger-picking guitar playing that harkens back to a time before the time it was recorded in. It’s something of a departure for the Chicago based musician who has a weekly residency leading a jazz band, but draws inspiration for this album from his earliest playing days when he learnt to play guitar by ear from the records of acoustic legends such as Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, Reverend Gary Davis, and Big Bill Broonzy. The playing is exceptional – no one without the musical chops would make such an undertaking. Others with “a good thumb” in the guitar instrumentals section of the folk world have found it a good idea to mix up styles across recordings, but if you’re in the market for a baker’s dozen plus one rags for your playlists then Joel Paterson is assuredly your man (6/10).
Nuala Kennedy ‘Shorelines‘: Nuala Kennedy hails out of Dundalk and is a singer and multi-instrumentalist best known for her flute and whistle playing but also has a classical piano background. She has her own music and is also the consummate collaborator be it in the spheres of Norwegian folk, recording and touring with Bonnie Prince Billy, writing music for the TV series ‘American Gods‘ or singing and playing with Janis Ian. And that’s the short resume. ‘Shoreline‘ is an album of traditional style folk music with strands of English tradition songs such as ‘Sally Sits Weeping‘ and plenty of “Celtic Folk” particularly on instrumental sets of jigs and songs such as ‘The Cavan Road.‘ The arrangements are novel, the flute playing adds a real change from the normal recordings, ‘Wake‘ is a particularly fine composition full of a mournful sense of loss and regret, the interplay with Tara Breen’s fiddle is enough to break a heart.
The Tin Whistle in Kennedy’s hands is also a beautiful sound, a reminder that these pocket instruments were an important part of the sound of popular song – not everyone could afford a fiddle or pipes. To cap all this though is Nuala Kennedy’s singing – strong and natural fully inhabiting the songs, making ‘Shorelines‘ a fine collection of songs and tunes (7/10).
McDermott & North ‘The Hollywood EP‘: Australian indie-folk “busking” duo Rhys North and Paddy McDermott have had their latest release produced by Ben Reels, the duo providing their guitar and vocals to which Reels added additional instrumentation provided by a crack team of musicians recorded in LA. The results are four songs very much in a laid-back Sixties popular folk style – nothing too challenging, but plenty of smooth and easy-on-the-ear sounds that are perhaps too close pastiches of the music that has inspired them. The song topics are different shades of love, but sadly nothing really stands out as offering a great insight or even a particularly catchy new tune – everything is very competent, but The Milk Carton Kids this is not (5/10).
There’s nothing from the EP on Youtube, Soundcloud, or Bandcamp, but McDermott & North’s music can be found on Spotify if you’re really keen to find out more.
Rupert Wates ‘Elegies‘: Rupert Wates has produced an album of meditations mostly on love in different forms, and with a distinct trace of the mythical and fantastical running through the collection. There’s a glorious simplicity to the instrumentation – Wates’ delicate finger-picked guitar and Trifon Dimitrov on double bass – which frame the lyrics perfectly. The tone is definitely one of loss – ‘Winter‘ is a contemplation of aging, with the inevitable unwished for end of everything; ‘The Man Who Worked in Clay and Stone‘ is an unfulfilled pygmalion tale – the narrator has his ‘one true love‘ sculpted for him but she remains stubbornly cold stone even as he gives his heart forever. ‘Cathy‘ seemingly tells a simpler tale of an unrequited love, as Cathy enchants one after another without forming a particular attachment – there is a lyrical twist that hints at a different kind of loss here ‘She’s so very glad to see you, She smiles as you walk in the door, family and friends, lovers of yore, Cathy is happy to meet you.‘ (7/10)
Rachael Kilgour ‘My Father Loved Me‘:
Rachael Kilgour’s fourth album could not be more personal as she examines her relationship with her father, “a tenderhearted trickster / I’m a lot like him” she confesses on the title track, and how his struggle with dementia and his death in 2019 affected him and his relationship with his daughter. It was clearly a close familial bond – as Rachael Kilgour also adds “there’s a ghost of a man at the back of every hall I sing / And he’s a braggart he claims his daughter could do anything / I want to be just like him and nothing like him at the very same time.” The album never really strays from the emotionally open ‘Family Secrets‘ is full of acceptance for one’s genetic inheritance – and also for the emotional responses learned in one’s upbringing “Whether I’m happy or sad / I cry just like my dad / But I am proud to let it be named / I may be soft but I am not ashamed” It’s a tough, but worthwhile, listen as ‘My Father Loved Me‘ is a true picture that dares to draw on the saddest as well as the gladdest memories – ‘Heart on Fire‘ reflects on death and beyond – a cremation and a box of ashes that needs occasional dusting, and then the eventual day when Mom will need to be moved out and the home gets sold. These are songs you won’t quickly forget. (8/10)