London-based psychedelic four-piece Instant Flight's second album, the follow-up to the well-received Colours & Lights, has taken up permanent residence in my car's CD multi-changer. Marco Magnani has a strong vocal style and excellent guitar technique, and he is ably accompanied by Lucie Rejchrtova: her keyboard playing evokes the best of prog wizards like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, and occasionally hints at Rick Wright's sensitive touch, but she adds a full-on style that's all her own. Bass and drums are provided by John O'Sullivan and James Ovens respectively, and all four members sprinkle musical magic over this impressive collection of great songs. From my favourite, the title track, through tracks including Dreamland and Play for a Fool, there is no weak song on this album. This is that rare beast in these days of iPods and playlists, an album so brilliant that it demands to be listened to from start to finish.
Chris While and Julie Matthews Together Alone Fat Cat Records FATCD021
This multitalented duo's successful career has included stints with the Albion Band, songwriting for artists like Fairport Convention, and multiple nominations (both individual and joint) at the BBC Folk Awards. Together Alone, their sixth studio album, is full of new, original songs. All of these have the trademark While & Matthews vocals, augmented on the amazing Take These Bones by the voices of over 250 voice workshop participants. Another notable track is the brilliant and poignant The Sum of What I Am, written for the 2006 Radio Ballads programme about living with HIV. If you haven't heard While & Matthews yet, this superb album is as good a place to start as any.
Ken Nicol & Phil Cool Nicol & Cool MVS Sound MVSCD020
Ken Nicol Initial Variations MVS Sound MVSCD018
Ken Nicol, guitar virtuoso, songwriter, and member of the Albion Band, the Morris On Band, and Steeleye Span, recently teamed up with comedian and impressionist Phil Cool for a number of live performances that mixed musical comedy with more serious material. This debut CD suggests what a Nicol & Cool show would be like. It is absolutely brilliant, from the George W. Bush-baiting Oil Man to more introspective pieces like City of Angels and England You're Gone. If you've not heard the work of Nicol & Cool before, this album will both please and surprise you. Initial Variations is Ken's latest instrumental album, each track cryptically entitled with two initials belonging to someone who has had an impact on his life so far. His virtuosic guitar playing really shines on this album, which mixes styles including folk, rock, and jazz, each new composition showcasing a different side of his versatility. This record shows why he is so highly praised by people like Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy. It deserves to get your attention too.
Merlin's Keep Mind, Body & Folk Merlin's Keep CDMK002
On this record, five-piece English band Merlin's Keep take elements of traditional music and weave them into some excellent contemporary folk-rock tracks. The band work really well together; the male/female vocal interplay and harmonies are reminiscent of early Fairport, while the beautiful fiddle of Tracey Smith enhances well-written songs like the beautiful Do You feel the Same?, Come Away, and The Ballad of Merlin. All in all, this is a fantastic album of soon-to-be-classic folk-rock, which would fit nicely into any record collection containing Fairport, Span or the Albion band.
Status Quo Pictures: 40 Years of Hits Universal Catalogue
Love them or loath them, you can't deny the impact that the Quo have had on the English musical scene. From the troubadour psychedelia of Pictures of Matchstick Men and Ice in the Sun to the harder-edged blues-rock that later became their trademark, they've mined a rich musical seam over the past forty years. This album is packed with all the hits, like Down Down, Living on an Island, In the Army Now, Burning Bridges and Marguerita Time. Every home needs a Quo compilation, and you can't go far wrong with this one, a timely reminder of the band's staying power.
Miracle Mile Coffee and Stars (Selected Songs) Meme Records CDMM13
Lyricist and vocalist Trevor Jones and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Cliffe have been working together as Miracle Mile since 1997, and this 18-track compilation is an ideal introduction to their work, collecting some of their finest collaborations. With atmospheric sounds, an introspective, melancholic air, wistful lovelorn lyrics, and yearning longing that is reminiscent of The Blue Nile, this is an excellent collection of well-written songs that you'll want to revisit time and again.
A Silent Film The City That Sleeps Xtra Mile Recordings XMR015CD
Another fantastic band on the brilliant Xtra Mile label, London's A Silent Film have been taking the live world by storm with their energetic and atmospheric set, captured on this wonderful debut album. From the opener Sleeping Pills to the closing epic Aurora, this is fantastic guitar- and piano-driven contemporary rock. Other stand-out tracks include Julie June (a live favourite) and Ghosts in the Water. This is a great first album from a band that you really should see live if you get the chance.
Lizzyspit Eggbox Spit Records
Elizabeth Knights-Ward is a singer-songwriter in the Kate Nash/Lily Allen mould, who has been building a strong following through MySpace and live performances. This self-produced debut album of contemporary songs amply demonstrates why. Tracks like Jack of All trades and Eggbox prove that she is a fine songwriter, excellent at writing about modern life. If you're keen on female singer-songwriters, this is one for you.
Hugh Cornwell Hooverdam Invisible Hands Music
Former Stranglers main man Cornwell's latest album, recorded with a three-piece power trio, is a return to the biting form that made him such a formidable frontman in his punk heyday. With an ear for a sharp lyric and a good melody, and hints of the old anger bubbling through, Cornwell proves that his muse has not deserted him on tracks like Philip K Ridiculous, Rain On the River, and Slow Boat to Trowbridge. This great album from a rock legend is well worth investigating.
Ashley Hutchings and Ernesto de Pascale My Land is Your Land Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2078
Over five years in coming, this is Ashley Hutchings' long-promised Anglo-Italian album. It is, as expected, a musical triumph, a genuine meeting of traditions that is characterised by mutual respect. Hutchings' under-appreciated songwriting skills come to the fore on You Are What You Eat, comparing English and Italian life, and the fantastic Family Ties. He has an inspired and sympathetic collaborator in de Pascale, whose warmth and heart are equal to his own. This is a fantastically absorbing album born of two men's musical passions. I defy anyone to listen to it and not fall in love with it.
Ric Sanders Still Waters: Instrumental Ballads 1980-2008 Talking Elephant TECD129
Best known as Fairport Convention's fiddle player, Ric Sanders has contributed some of the greatest instrumental tracks in Fairport's canon since he joined twenty-four years ago. This is the first collection of all his instrumental pieces, and includes such favourites as Portmeiron, Summer in December, and the beautiful Some Special Place dedicated to the memory of his parents, one of the most beautiful and emotional pieces of music you will ever hear. With his instantly recognisable fiddle sound backed by the sympathetic playing of various Fairport members, Still Waters has got to be one of the best instrumental albums that I've heard for a long time.
Paul Downes and Phil Beer Live at Nettlebed Talking Elephant TECD131
This is the live recording of a one-off gig reuniting folk club favourites Paul Downes and Phil Beer (now part of the very successful Show of Hands) that took place in 2007. Musicians who have worked closely together often seem to read each other's minds, and this is true of these extremely tight performances. Tracks like Honour and Praise, Sir Richard's Song, and Go to Work on Monday are performed with the exuberance and stage presence that you would expect of the pair. This fantastic live set suggests that if Downes & Beer made their reunion permanent, the BBC Folk Awards Best Duo award would be theirs for the taking.
Simon Care Oh What a Caper Talking Elephant TECD130
Northampton's (and England's) finest and busiest melodeon player Simon Care releases the sequel to his last compilation The Box Set. Since his last album he has played with Tickled Pink, Whapweasel, The Morris On Band, The Albion Christmas Band, The Lark Rise Band, and Edward II. Tracks from all of these collaborations are included here, as well as a couple of pieces recorded with Tickled Pink guitarist Gerald Claridge. Care's obvious love of Morris and country dance tunes shines through on this collection, as does the enthusiasm and presence that he has on stage. This is a fantastic snapshot of the current English tradition, featuring so many different traditional songs, including the radical Tickled Pink reworking of Soldier's Joy, that it bears repeated listening.
Neil Ardley Harmony of the Spheres Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2096
Legendary jazz composer and author Neil Ardley recorded and released Harmony of the Spheres in 1979. Now Esoteric, fast becoming one of the finest reissue labels in the country, have remastered it for its first CD release. Inspired by the age-old idea of the music of the spheres —the belief that every planet in the universe has its own unique musical sound— the album was recorded with some of the leading lights on the jazz scene, but the highlight of the record is undoubtedly John Martyn's tasteful and sympathetic guitar playing. If you have albums by Mike Oldfield or Jean-Michel Jarre, then you will love this record.
Lindisfarne Happy Daze Market Square MSMCD148
This 1974 album from Lindisfarne, now on CD for the first time, showcases the mark two version of the band: original members Alan Hull and Ray Jackson were joined by Tommy Duffy, Charlie Harcourt, Kenny Craddock and Paul Nichols. The sound was different from earlier Lindisfarne, with a blusier and rockier edge, but Alan Hull's songwriting was on fine form and the band's performances were as solid as ever. A tidy little album that has been overlooked for a long time, Happy Daze should finally get the recognition it deserves.
EPs and Singles Dartz The Sad History of the Village of Alnerique Xtra Mile B001E1GXGO
Teesside trio Dartz return with a new mini-album that sees them taking a more mellow approach than on their debut. Both a musical and lyrical advance on their first album, this is no mere filler despite being issued as a stop-gap while the band are at university. With a fantastic contemporary rock sound and some insightful lyrics, this is another great record from Xtra Mile.
Yorkshire band Ten Floors have been working hard on the live circuit, most recently supporting A Silent Film, and their keyboard-driven rock is showcased here on their self-produced debut single. The Apple Tree is a fantastic slow builder with a tremendous sound and a big, epic feel, while the other tracks, Thousand Miles and You Want It All, are also excellent contemporary tracks. --James R. Turner