London five-piece Trail were formed back in 2007, and have built up a huge live following in the capital, playing the O2 Wireless Festival. They raised £20k to help record their first album, a superb sonic journey. This brilliant and assured debut contains tracks reminiscent of bands like Muse and the Foo Fighters, marking Trail out as a band to watch.
April Maybe May Seahouse Records FSCD007
Barrow-in-Furness four-piece April Maybe May were originally called Fallen Leaves, until discovery of another band by the same name persuaded them to change it. This is their first album under their new moniker, and what a fine record it is. A good mix of acoustic, almost jazzy tunes, with the superb vocals of Rosie Hillman and Matt Kassell interweaving to create songs of true beauty, this release was initially download-only, but its success means that the CD is now available. This superb disc deserves to be successful.
Rodina Over the Sun AM Records AMCD001
Over the Sun was released in March, and has made a big impact. Leeds-based singer Rodina, originally from Ireland, has been compared to Alison Goldfrapp and Astrud Gilberto, but her voice is unmistakably her own on a debut album that stunningly combines ethereal vocals, Latino rhythms and a cool lazy summer groove reminiscent of Zero 7 or Hot Chip at their most chilled-out. With stunning support from Mark Ronson's live band The Haggis Horns and their smoky Latin jazz, this is fantastic music, ideal for late nights and long hot days.
La Folle Risus Sardonicus Tufty Records
Sheffield group La Folle are known for their love of the macabre and their riotous live shows, and this, their debut album, aims to capture their stage presence. Brooding, menacing and epic, this is a mighty sound reminiscent of Sheffield bands like The Comsat Angels. Songs build, with brooding undercurrents and Doors-esque vocals, to an almost psychedelic wall of sound, making this one of the most exciting debuts that I have heard all year.
The No Good Sinners My Demo Scarlet Records SR023
The brainchild of Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Aidan Curren, who has been active in the UK folk scene since moving over from Canada, this international collaboration features his friends Eliza Carthy on fiddle, bassist Dave Donnelly (of Salsa Celtica and Finlay Quaye), and drummer Willy Molleson (who has worked with Carthy before, as well as The Groovediggaz). Their combined talents and Curren's material make this a fantastic fusion, drawing on the American folk scene and bands like Fairport for influences. The self-penned tracks have a great laid-back sound, with hints of the blues on She Goes Away, Born Under a Bad Sign, and the fantastic Master of Denial. This is groovy, eclectic folk music, with four excellent musicians at the top of their game.
David Rotheray David Rotheray's "The Life of Birds" Proper Music PRPCD061
Founder member of the Beautiful South and renowned singer-songwriter David Rotheray has surrounded himself with the cream of the British folk scene on this semi-conceptual album about birds. The Sparrow, The Thrush & The Nightingale opens and closes the album (Rotheray albums always feature a bookend song). This is a superb track, its caustic and cynical viewpoint on the music industry brought beautifully to life by Jim Causley's vocals. Eliza Carthy contributes two compositions, the bittersweet The Road to the South reflecting Rotheray's memories of friends who left Hull for London, and the brilliant Cover Your Garden Over, which analyses reality talent shows and celebrity culture. However, the stand-out track has to be Kathryn Williams' amazing Crows, Ravens & Rooks, a love song with lyrics co-written with Rotheray which showcases her gorgeously husky voice. Bella Hardy shines on both Living Before the War and The Digital Cuckoo, whilst her duet with Jim Causley on The Hummingbird on Your Calendar is a delight. There are two superbly mature pieces, Sweet Forgetfulness with Camille O'Sullivan and Almost Beautiful with Eleanor McEvoy. With so much talent on display, including Alasdair Roberts, Jack L and Julie Murphy, it's hard to pick favourites. The project certainly demonstrates Rotheray's gift for stepping back and allowing all the performers to shine.
Merlin's Keep Of This World Merlin's Keep CDMK003
It's always nice to receive an album accompanied by a press release which quotes you! When I reviewed Merlin's Keep's last album I mentioned their vocal interplay and harmonies reminiscent of early Fairport, and this new CD features these same strengths. The band have clearly honed their skills on the live scene, and then captured the best of their stage act on record. Their brilliance shines through on stunning tracks like Of This World, Six Degrees, Free Now, and Hush. This is a wonderful follow-up to their last album, proving the old adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.
Nancy Kerr and James Fagan Twice Reflected Sun Navigator Records NAVIGATOR041P
One of the finest folk duos around, Kerr and Fagan return with a fantastic fifth album. Their fifteen years together have honed their sound to perfection, as shown by this, their first collection of all-original material. The album was written and recorded in Australia and England, and reflects the heritage of both countries. Nancy Kerr has a superb ear for a melody, like her contemporary Eliza Carthy, and the duo are ably assisted by double bassist Rick Foot and concertina player Rob Harbron.
Swarbrick Raison D'Etre Dave Swarbrick Shirty1 (distributed by Talking Elephant)
Folk's premier fiddler, a former Fairport lynchpin who has successfully battled serious health issues, has released one of his finest albums in a career that spans over forty years. With guests like longterm collaborator Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick, and legendary pianist Beryl Marriott, this is Swarb at his finest, interpreting previously unrecorded English music from 1680-1745, a couple of his own compositions, and a superb reprise of the Spanish Ladies medley from his debut solo album Rags, Reels and Airs. Swarb has always been one of folk's best musicians, and here, several decades after Liege and Lief, he delivers the magic again.
Beggars' Hill Beggars' Hill Moonshine Records/Talking Elephant TECD156
Talking Elephant, one of the leading folk-rock reissue labels in the UK, have found an amazing long-lost treasure recorded in the mid seventies. Made by a core nucleus of performers working in the Beggars' Hill area of Surrey, this album is as eclectic and electric as Fairport's debut, with a couple of amazing Richard Thompson covers like The New St George and Poor Ditching Boy, a brilliant version of Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where the Time Goes, and a spot-on adaptation of Wild Rover. This obscure classic has finally received a long-deserved release on CD.
Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol When We Were Very Young Talking Elephant TECD165
This superb double CD captures Fairport founder member Simon Nicol and erstwhile Fairport fiddler Dave Swarbrick performing their inimitable shows at a variety of folk clubs in the early eighties, whilst Fairport were on hiatus. Swarb is a brilliant fiddler, and Simon is one of the most underrated guitarists around. His interpretative technique on an acoustic guitar is unrivalled.
The collection contains set lists culled from Fairport originals (Sloth, End of a Holiday), a couple of Richard Thompson originals (Time to Ring Some Changes, Pavanne), some amusing interludes (Teddy Bears' Picnic, The Dogs They Had a Party), and a misogynistic tune called She is Woman, written by Red Dwarf creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. The recordings from Swarb's own private collection are superb, and the skill and intimacy of the performances shine through.
Rainbow Chasers The Best of 2004-2010 Talking Elephant TECD164
After the last incarnation of the Albion Band was wound up, Fairport/Steeleye Span founder Ashley Hutchings put together his new project Rainbow Chasers in 2004. This sixteen track album collects the best material from their two releases Some Colours Fly and Fortune Never Sleeps, with able performances from Jo Hamilton, Ruth Angell, original member Mark Hutchinson, and Joe Topping. Ashley takes the back seat, his steady bass and vocals providing the foundation for the younger performers, and tracks like Ghosts in the Rain, New Blue Stockings, About Dawn and On the High Peak Trail reflect this very well. This is a fantastic introduction to a great group.
The Amazing Blondel The Amazing Elsie Emerald Talking Elephant TECD162
Terry Wincott and Eddie Baird have reunited for the first Blondel album since 1978. Since Talking Elephant have also reissued a couple of quality Blondel albums from the early 1970s, now is a good time to discover their charm. This collection of nine enchanting songs features superb guest performances from John 'Rabbit' Bundrick, with some amazing music on tracks like Next Time, Here at Last, and the great opener Cool Margarita, with its relaxed Latin funk. The album captures some classic Blondel moments, and slots nicely into their back catalogue.
Kimber's Men Talking Elephant TECD163
One of the most prominent sea shanty groups in the country, Kimber's Men are firmly rooted in the tradition. This release contains rousing arrangements of old sea songs like Bully in the Alley, Shenandoah, South Australia, and some traditional folk including Lord Franklin, Rio Grande, and Donkey Riding. All are performed with verve and gusto, and the almighty sound of many voices in strong harmony.--James R. Turner