Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Billie Marten - Feeding Seahorses By Hand

Rating: 4/5

Classy and enjoyable

I like Feeding Seahorses By Hand. Billie Marten was new to me so it was a bit of a punt, but it’s very rewarding. She has a lovely, husky, slightly broken voice and her material is very decent slightly folky, slightly jazzy stuff. I haven’t yet found anything truly outstanding here, but I can recommend this as a classy, enjoyable album.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Thea Gilmore - Small World Turning

Rating: 5/5

Another fine album from Thea Gilmore

Small World Turning is yet another very fine album from Thea Gilmore. It’s perhaps not one of her very greatest (in which class I’d put the masterpieces which are Avalanche, Murphy’s Heart and Regardless) but it’s still real quality.

There’s the mix we’ve come to expect of sharp political comment (The Revisionist is an excellent example) and lovely, moving songs about love and human relations. All the Thea trademarks are still here: great and sometimes astonishingly brilliant lyrics; beautiful melodies, sometimes with with slightly unusual chord sequences; sequences of extraordinary images… It’s great stuff.

I have to say that occasionally the trademarks spill over slightly into the sense that I’ve heard this before. Glory, for example, bears quite a strong musical and structural resemblance to Heads Will Roll, with the “Amens” from Automatic Blue thrown in. That’s fine with me – they’re two great songs – but Thea Gilmore is such an original, innovative songwriter that it’s a bit of a surprise.

This small caveat aside, it’s a really good album from one of our finest songwriters and warmy recommended.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)

Rating: 5/5

Still a gem

Time (The Revelator) is still an outstanding album, I think. Gillian Welch has been in the top rank of country singer-songwriters for decades now and this album shows why. The songs are excellent, with thoughtful, intelligent and slightly quirky lyrics and are involving and tuneful from the stunningly powerful Elvis Presley Blues to the slightly jaunty Red Clay Halo. Welch’s voice is wonderfully distinctive and haunting, there’s some great guitar work and the whole thing is a gem.

Not many albums last this well for almost twenty years; this one has, and I can recommend it very warmly.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

F.J. McMahon - Spirit Of The Golden Juice

Rating: 2/5

Pretty forgettable

I’m afraid I don’t think Spirit Of The Golden Juice is a very good. It’s OK in its way, but F.J. McMahon’s songs are pretty generic, there’s not a great deal of variety and in the end it just becomes rather dull. McMahon’s voice is pleasant enough, but there was an awful lot of quite pleasant-sounding stuff like this in 1969 and overall the whole thing rather fades into the background hum of the time.

In short, it’s an album I’m quite glad to have heard because F.J. McMahon’s name was familiar, but having heard it a couple of times I doubt whether I’ll be bothering again for a long while – if ever.

Emmylou Harris - Red Dirt Girl

Rating: 5/5

Still very good

This is still a very good album indeed. Emmylou Harris has always been a great singer; here she shows that she’s a very fine songwriter, too. These are lovely, haunting tracks with great melodies, fine arrangements and Emmylou’s slightly dark, beautifully modulated voice bringing them to life.

After almost 20 years, Red Dirt Girl still stands up very well, which is a fine compliment to its quality. Warmly recommended.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Marry Waterson & Emily Barker - A Window To Other Ways

Rating: 5/5

A terrific album

I think this is a terrific album. I have loved Emily Barker’s work for a long time now and this is another cracker in her discography. Barker’s last two albums have been with the wonderful country trio Applewood Road and the equally excellent, Nashville-based Sweet Kind Of Blue. It is typical of her that in a change of style she is now collaborating with the quintessentially English folk singer Marry Waterson and between them they have produced an album of real quality, with thoughtful, musically diverse songs and a wonderful overall sound.

It’s hard to categorise the music here, other than that it’s very, very good. There’s a mix of folk and soul really, with intelligent lyrics about a range of things. I’m particularly fond of Little Hits Of Dopamine - “I’d rather be rock and rolling but you just keep on scrolling...I’m right here, right now and you’re missing out...” - but there is plenty of food for thought and musical enjoyment throughout the album.

In short, this is a bit of real class from two excellent performers and, in Emily Barker, one of the finest songwriters around at the moment. Warmly recommended.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Gordon Giltrap & Rick Wakeman - From Brush & Stone

Rating: 3/5

Review: A bit dull

Both Rick Wakeman and Gordon Giltrap are excellent musicians, but I’m afraid this album is just a bit dull. Both play superbly, of course, but the material isn’t very inspiring and there is an air of slight blandness over the whole recording. There’s nothing actively wrong with any of it, but it just doesn’t hold my attention. Sadly, I can’t recommend this.