Launched with a concert at London's Purcell Rooms in April this year, this is acclaimed six-piece Solus3's second album, following up 2010's highly praised debut The Sky Above the Roof. Taking in prog, jazz, improv and elements of space- and krautrock, this ethereal, atmospheric record extends the band's range beyond the usual drum, bass and guitar setup. It features stunning vocals from Krupa MaNomay, throat singing from Francesco Fillizzola--adding an extra dimension to the music--and harp and piano from Julia Thornton. With the chilled-out loops of Unfold, some stunning guitar on Tricked By a Monster, and the brilliantly-titled and superbly-performed Porn Jam, this fantastic album will thrill and excite the many prog fans who are looking for something different.
Merlin's Keep High on a Hill Merlin's Keep CDMK004
I have had the great pleasure of reviewing and enjoying the last couple of albums from talented five-piece Doncaster-based folk-rock band Merlin's Keep, and as this new collection proves, they just keep getting better. According to the sleeve notes, the album is influenced by time that the group spent in the Wolds, and this is reflected in the title track, which features some stunning harmony vocals. Indeed, the singing throughout the album is superb on tracks like Looking East, Come Dance With Me and Solstice Song, whilst the musicianship is second to none. This is another fantastic release from Merlin's Keep which should please existing fans and win them new ones. I look forward to catching them on tour this year and seeing these wonderful songs performed live.
Magicfolk Tales of Power www.magicfolk.co.uk
The second album from esoteric folk/prog rock group Magicfolk, led by Ben and Michelle Glover, gives us eleven beautiful songs based around mythology, faery rings, and similar topics. With an excellent band behind her, Michelle's voice rises and falls, flutters and weaves, turning each song into its own unique place, so that when the album finishes the listener feels bereft.
Jack McNeil and Charlie Heys Two Fine Days Fellside FECD245
BBC Young Folk Award nominees, a sparkling duo whose first two albums created a stir in the folk world, Jack McNeil and Charlie Hayes expand their sound on this, their third album. Jack's impressive guitar playing and vocals are complemented by the violin work of the highly talented Charlie, and this album of self-written folk music effortlessly slots into the tradition, with songs including Debatable Lands (about the borders between England and Scotland) and Seaglass. Charlie's delicate violin showcases her lightness of touch, on a spectacular album that should lift the duo up into the next league as folk superstars.
Rob Thom Trapped and Free Versechorus VCD001
This debut from an artist who splits his time between England and Kansas is filled with eleven well-crafted tracks that have successfully made the transition from the London clubs to the recording studio. Songs like Catherine, Cedar Road, David #2 and the title track are delicious slices of acoustic folk pop with a melancholic vibe, well-observed lyrics and some fantastic vocal performances. This album shows that Thom is a significant talent about to make his mark.
Lindisfarne Magic in the Air (Live) ECLEC2314
Lindisfarne Back and Fourth ECLEC2313
After scoring chart successes in the early 1970s, Newcastle folk rockers Lindisfarne's fortunes waned in mid-decade, and by 1975 the original band had split up. Reformed initially in 1976 for a couple of homecoming shows in Newcastle, the original Alan Hull-led line-up was reassembled by the time Magic in the Air was recorded live in Newcastle in December 1977. The double LP was their first post-reformation release. This remaster features a clean crisp sound and includes the complete album on one CD, featuring all the big hits--Lady Eleanor, Clear White Light, Meet me on the Corner and the ubiquitous Fog on the Tyne--alongside other well regarded but lesser known classics like All Fall Down, Dingly Dell and Scarecrow Song. The band are on top form throughout and it is clear that the crowd, made up of locals and Lindisfarne fans, are loving every minute of it.
The success of the live album spurred the band on to record their 'comeback' studio album. Originally released in 1978, Back and Fourth foregrounds the songwriting skills of Alan Hull, Ray Jackson and Charlie Harcourt, with superb new material like the singles Juke Box Gypsy and Warm Feeling, as well as the first classic from the revitalised line-up, Run for Home, which hit the top ten in the UK. Also included was Hull's brilliant and personal Marshall Riley's Army, a song about the Jarrow marchers and their legacy that resonates even now. This successful reunion album, expertly produced by the legendary Gus Dudgeon, introduced Lindisfarne to a new audience, galvanised their existing fanbase, and propelled them to continued success.
Bill Nelson's art rockers Be-Bop Deluxe get the bargain box set treatment from EMI, as part of their competitively-priced budget series. All five of the band's studio albums (plus bonus tracks from the original 1994 reissues) have been fully remastered at Abbey Road onto four discs, complete with a fifth disc of demos and live tracks, and bonus sleeve notes from Bill Nelson. At less than £15 online, this outstanding package is a must buy, with over five hours of excellent music.
1974's debut album Axe Victim is basically the band's live set recorded in the studio (as is usually the case with most first records). Nelson's debt to glam rock era Bowie is most obvious on Jet Silver and The Dolls of Venus, though the tracklist as a whole seems more reminiscent of Roxy Music's art school rock, with Nelson's guitar-playing lighting up the tracks. Material like Jets at Dawn and the epic soundscape Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape point to Nelson's future direction. After touring with Cockney Rebel in 1974, Nelson disbanded the Axe Victim line-up and reformed with a new set of musicians in an effort to move away from the debut album's sound. The result was 1975's Futurama. The majority of its material covers ground that Nelson would revisit over many years: songs like Stage Whispers (about touring, actually written on the road), Maid in Heaven about courtship, and Music in Dreamland, on which the sound is expanded by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
Sunburst Finish from 1976 saw Nelson become co-producer with John Leckie. The sound is more widescreen with the addition of Andy Clarke's keyboards, whilst Nelson's guitar work reaches its peak on Crying to the Sky and Ships in the Night. The album marks the start of the group's most successful period, and is a splendid mid-seventies rock record.
The band toured the States for the first time in 1976 and were heavily influenced by American culture. This is reflected by Modern Music, released in September 1976, with a lyrical emphasis on Americana. The theme of touring again shaped Nelson's writing, on Marooned in Babylon. The highlight of the album is the Modern Music Suite, including the tracks Down on Terminal Street and Forbidden Lovers, which show the band at their peak.
1978's Drastic Plastic was a total departure from the band's original sound, foreshadowing the direction that Nelson would later take with his band Red Noise and further into his ongoing eclectic solo career. Recorded in France in the Rolling Stones' mobile studio and utilising all the technologies of the time, it shows a minimalist approach to lyrics: Islands of the Dead (about the passing of Bill Nelson's father) and the instrumental Saxophonist are very personal songs from a songwriter whose experiences coloured his music.
Although the group split after this album, the boxed set's final disc captures several live jaunts, including a spectacular performance of the Modern Music Suite. The copious sleeve notes are a wonderful introduction to the band, enhancing a quality music package at an affordable price.
Steeleye Span A Parcel of Steeleye Span Another Parcel of Steeleye Span EMI Records
Covering the periods 1972-1975, and 1976-1989, these two budget-priced remastered three disc collections represent the most fertile years for Steeleye Span.
A Parcel of.. contains the albums Below the Salt, Parcel of Rogues, Now We Are Six, Commoner's Crown and All Around my Hat. In 1972 founder member Ashley Hutchings left, feeling that he had gone as far as he could with the group. Guitarist Martin Carthy also left at the same time, leaving Peter Knight and founder members Tim Hart and Maddy Prior to find new collaborators.
Below the Salt saw them joined by Bob Johnson and Rick Kemp to redefine the Steeleye Span sound. Since the group had also moved to the Chrysalis label, it was like a fresh start. The release set the tone for the next few albums, with Parcel of Rogues consolidating the band's sound. Its mixture of jigs, reels and traditional songs like The Weaver and the Factory Maid moved Span into the arena recently vacated by Fairport Convention in favour of recording original material.
Now We Are Six, produced by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, saw the introduction of Nigel Pegrum on drums. The band now had six members and the record was their sixth album--hence the title. It contained traditional material, including Thomas the Rhymer and Drink Down the Moon. The addition of a drummer expanded the Span sound, and paved the way for Commoner's Crown. Its various tracks included the mammoth rock epic Long Lankin, the enchanting Elf Call and the sprightly New York Girls, with Peter Sellers on acoustic ukelele.
The band's fortunes were on the up by 1975's All Around My Hat, their commercial peak, produced by Mike Batt who was also currently riding high with his work for the Wombles. Its songs are still peppered throughout the band's repertoire, including Black Jack Davy (later sampled by Goldie Lookin Chain), Bachelor's Hall and the seminal Hard Times of Old England. The album is as relevant now as when it was first recorded.
Another Parcel of... picks up the story where the first box ends. Unfortunately, 1976's Mike Batt-produced Rocket Cottage tanked, failing to chart at all, although the group were firing on all four cylinders. Tracks such as Fighting for Strangers and London are as strong as anything on All Around My Hat.
By 1977's Storm Force Ten, Knight and Johnson had departed and Martin Carthy returned to the fold, bringing accordion player John Kirkpatrick with him to fill the gap left by Knight's violin. Storm Force Ten is probably Span's strongest album of the seventies, with the beautiful accapella Sweep, Chimney Sweep, the vibrant Awake, Awake and the wonderful Seventeen Come Sunday. It is one of their career highlights.
Live at Last, the first official live album, contains performances of The False Knight on the Road and The Maid and the Palmer, with Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick up front. At this point, in 1978, the band split.
1981, however, saw the All Around My Hat line-up of Prior, Kemp, Hart, Knight, Johnson and Pegrum reunite for Sails of Silver. Though full of excellent material including the title track, the Knight-penned Let Her Go Down, and the fantastic Tell Me Why, the record sank without trace.
Tim Hart left and by 1989's Tempted and Tried the line-up had changed, with Tim Harries replacing Rick Kemp on bass. Original songs such as Seagull, Following Me and The Fox mingled with traditional songs Padstow and The Shaking of the Sheets (featuring the traditional fiddle reel Black Joke). Steeleye Span had left behind a turbulent decade and were set for more success in the nineties and beyond.
This remastered set of ten albums fitted onto three CDs over two sets is a must for any fan of folk rock.
In the last couple of years two of England's most original singer-songwriters, both hailing from the South West, have recorded albums dealing with their ideas about England and Englishness in the twenty-first century.
First up is the Mercury Award-winning album Let England Shake by P J Harvey, never one to go with the tides. Released in 2011, Polly Jean's eighth studio album was recorded in a church in her native Dorset, with sparse instrumentation and more autoharp than ever before. On it she expresses her feelings about the country she lives in, drawing inspiration from diverse sources including T. S. Eliot, Salvador Dalí and The Doors. This is also a record about war--its impact on the victims, the occupied country, and the soldiers themselves--describing the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan in The Words that Maketh Murder and Hanging in the Wire. It is a peerless artistic statement for P J Harvey.
Also released in 2011, Frank Turner's fourth album England Keep My Bones has a title drawn from The Life and Death of King John by Shakespeare. Turner has commented that the record focusses on mortality and Englishness. He admittedly makes a conscious effort to write songs in an English style, and here, like that other great English troubador Billy Bragg, he succeeds in spades. From the opening accapella Eulogy and the personal Peggy Sings the Blues to the autobiographical Wessex Boy, this album is a far more intimate affair than Harvey's. Turner's steady backing band have been honed by touring, and he himself grows in stature with every release, combining Kinksian social commentary with a swagger that verges on punk.
This intelligent record showcases an artist who knows not just what he wants to say, but also how to say it.
Florence and The Machine Ceremonials Island Records
On her 2009 debut album Lungs, Florence Welch announced herself as a unique talent. 2011 brought her long-awaited second album, which certainly did not disappoint. The majestic lead single What the Water Gave Me heralded a shift in style, replacing the earlier insistence of songs like Kiss With a Fist with a more expansive approach. Atmospheric, evocative, epic, and lushly orchestrated are all good ways of describing Ceremonials, which captures a songwriter who has matured in leaps and bounds and now has the confidence to allow the arrangements (somewhat reminiscent of eighties Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel) to showcase the lyrics and music. They provide the perfect backdrop for Florence's fantastic vocals to cast their spell over the listener, on tracks such as the second single Shake It Out, Seven Devils, and the gospel-tinged Leave My Body. There is no bad track on this album, and it is one of those creations which are becoming rarer: a record made to be enjoyed through headphones from start to finish.
Jim Capaldi Oh How We Danced Whale Meat Again Esoteric Records ECLEC 2317/ECLEC2318
Midlands-born drummer, lyricist and songwriter Jim Capaldi was, with Steve Winwood, one of the lynchpins in legendary supergroup Traffic, writing or co-writing most of the material. Winwood and Capaldi kept up this working relationship throughout their musical careers until the latter's untimely death in 2005.
These two albums, released here on CD for the first time by Esoteric, are Capaldi's first solo recordings-- Oh How We Danced was released in 1972 whilst Traffic were on hiatus, and Whale Meat Again in 1974, as the group were beginning to disband.
Recorded with the legendary Muscle Shoals musicians (David Hood, Roger Hawkin, Barry Beckett and Jimmy Johnson), Oh How We Danced also featured Steve Winwood and Chris Wood from Traffic, as well as Trevor Burton (from the Move), while the legendary Paul Kossoff lent his trademark guitar sound to the brilliant Big Thirst. As you would expect of musicians drawn from the traditional rhythm and blues scene, the album is a blues-rock classic. Capaldi provides superb vocals throughout, on songs like Open Your Heart, Last Day of Dawn, and the title track, with its horn-driven finale. This great debut album kickstarted Capaldi's successful solo career.
1974's Whale Meat Again saw Capaldi reunite with the core band from the previous album, so the Muscle Shoals crowd were joined by Winwood, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick, and Gaspar Lawal. The album marks a progression from the blues of Oh How We Danced into rockier territory. The title track, about whaling, shows Capaldi's lyrics beginning to reflect his growing interest in political, ecological and social issues, a major theme of his solo career. The funky Low Rider features terrific soul sounds, while the excellent Summer is Fading (concluding with a quick burst of Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again, the song that inspired the record's title) ends a wonderful second album. These two reissues are both a worthy tribute and a great introduction to Capaldi's skills.
David Bedford Star's End Esoteric Records ECLEC 2316
Most rock/classical crossovers like Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Rick Wakeman's Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother or the Nice's Five Bridges were all recorded by rock artists moving into the classical sphere. By contrast, David Bedford--keyboardist in Kevin Ayers' band The Whole World, where he first met teenage guitarist Mike Oldfield--was always a composer first and a rock musician second. Bedford's first album, Nurse's Song with Elephants, was only made at the request of the late John Peel (and appeared on Peel's own Dandelion label). Star's End, Bedford's second album, was released by the Virgin label, buoyed by the recent commercial success of Oldfield's Tubular Bells. It was a joint venture with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who commissioned the piece, and maverick conductor Vernon Handley; the latter's deftness of touch with the orchestra is one of the album's many delights, while Mike Oldfield provides guitar and bass and Chris Cutler assists on drums. Scored specifically for a vinyl record (approximately twenty-four minutes on each side), the piece consists of two parts. This is an epic classical symphony inspired by the notion of entropy, the death of stars, written to accommodate rock instrumentation. Whilst it seems almost ambient at points, there is always much more going on beneath the surface, so that each listen reveals new secrets. Bedford, who sadly died in 2011, enjoyed a successful career up until his death, and this was his first major triumph.
Decameron Say Hello to the Band Esoteric ECLEC2320
Originally released in 1973, this is Cheltenham-based folk-rock group Decameron's debut album, released here with an additional B-side. Recorded by the legendary Sandy Roberton and engineered by the equally renowned Jerry Boys, this release saw the quartet of Dave Bell (guitar/vocals), Johnny Coppin (guitar/vocals), Al Fenn (lead guitar/mandolin/vocals), and Geoff March (cello/violin/vocals) make its imprint on the music world. The group's strength lay in writing new material in the folk-rock vein. In Dave Bell and Johnny Coppin they had a formidable songwriting partnership, responsible for such classics as the album's title track, the brilliant ballad Innocent Sylvester Prime, and Stoat's Grope (All I Need). The four-part vocal harmonies bring something of the American folk revival to a collection of very English material, and with able assistance from session musicans like Timi Donald on drums and Pat Donaldson on bass, this is an assured and well-written debut album.
Bill Nelson Luminous Esoteric/Cocteau Discs COCD1003
This is a timely reissue of former Be-Bop Deluxe frontman Bill Nelson's 1990 album. Described by its creator as "a sketchbook, a fragment of ideas," Luminous is a treat. The lo-fi style of the home-recorded tracks rather enhances the album than otherwise, and while the drums are programmed, the rest of the instrumentation is played in real time by Bill. With the energetic A Luminous Kind of Guy-- a lost synth-pop classic--the whimsical Telepathic Cats, the rock of Burning Down and the truly great It's OK, this is no throwaway album or collection of odds and sods. Instead, the tracks are like sketches for a work of art: not the completed article, but works of genius nonetheless.--James R. Turner