This week we new release from Spiers & Boden, Jennifer Crook, Tara Nevins and The Will Collier Septet, read Simon’s reviews on the next page and watch a Spiers & Boden interview courtesy of Bright Young Folk and Tara Nevins solo acoustic singing Snowbird from her album..
Spiers & Boden – The Works Navigator Records NAVIGATOR046
Those who follow Jon & John is their various guises must be eagerly awaiting this, especially if you were at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire Birthday bash, which gave a pretty good indication of what’s on the disc. Celebrating 10 years as a duo they are all the more cultured and capable with the experience of countless gigs, sessions and studio hours to call on. The chance, therefore, to revisit some of their favourite songs from their own duo albums, summoning both the extra collective experience and an all star guest list was most welcomed. That both are better musicians now is their own judgement, but to be able to call on Eliza and Martin Carthy, Maddy Prior, Martin Simpson and old friends Nancy Kerr and James Fagan perhaps shows how central Spiers & Boden have become within the folk world, but then the proof is in the listening. The CD plays out like a set coming to a glorious climax through the shanties Old Maui into Haul Away, the heroic ballad tale of Bold Sir Rylas and finally Prickle-eye Bush with Fay Hield, Pete Coe and Ian Giles building up the choruses. Then there are tunes, Rochdale Coconut Dance, Cheshire Waltz and the set Gooseberry Bush/Laudanum Bunches, plus Jon’s love of mythical smithery in Brown Adam and the licentious beggar Tom Padget also gets another make-over. Even those with a passing or newly acquired interest in folk could well find this the best CD they buy this year, but then some of you already know that.
Jennifer Crook – Merry-Go-Round Transatlatic Roots TRJC007
Over two solo records Jennifer Crook has surrounded herself with an impressive cast, the hired help including Rob Habron, Miranda Sykes, Clive Gregson, Darrell Scott, Eddi Reader and Boo Hewerdine. The latter occupies the producer’s chair for Merry Go Round, contributing two co-writing credits to a CD that proves Jennifer is every bit at home with the company she keeps. The Bath based harpist has also taken to the guitar and both instruments feature through these carefully textured songs that serve Jennifer’s elegant voice beautifully. The duet with Darrell on Cowboys is goose-bump-gorgeous, the quirky Probably The Rain and the instrumental vignette of The Spin top and tail the excellent She Wore Red. Another duet, this time with Boo leading Baltimore into the closing take on Gillian Welch’s One Little Song prove a sublime conclusion. The latter’s simple harp and the harmony of Jennifer and Eddi Reader is breath taking. Mention should be made too of Bethany Porter as Jennifer’s regular musical foil who provides cello and vocals, adding drama to Time Stood Still and the swelling emotions of Coming DownThe Road. Utterly beguiling.
Tara Nevins – Wood And Stone Sugar Hill Records SHCD4046
As a founding member of Donna The Buffalo and also as part of the all female Cajun outfit The Heartbeats, Trara Nevins has charted a course through the roots-music scene of America for over 20 years. Taking a combination of classical training and her parents love of simply having a good time with music, Nevins gravitated towards the old-timey scene in her teenage years and has been hooked into it ever since. Although much of her influence comes from the deep-south, she returned to her New York Sate home turf and Levon Helm’s studio to make Wood And Stone. Calling on the services of Dylan alumnus Larry Campbell to add his multi-instrumental skills to hers, Tara channels swampy accordion and mountain fiddles through a set of songs about heartaches and a longing for the sanctity of family values and a simple home life. The chemistry between Nevins and Campbell cooks up a powerfully convincing sound through tracks like Down South Blues, The Wrong Side and You’re Still Driving That Truck as the duo’s varied strings entwine. But the star turn is the brooding Tennessee River with its big, fat, shimmering guitars and broken heart laid bare. Terrific.
The Will Collier Septet – Those Who Wait F-IRE FIRECD46
Having been playing together for six years, the Will Collier Septet demonstrate the marvelous elasticity that an expanded horn line up can produce, conjuring extra harmonic layers and a variety of rhythmic textures from these 10 original compositions. The alto and tenor saxes working around the trumpet and trombone add urgency to the title track which unfolds into almost Spanish heat, but can then be cool and hang back through the minimal Decisions. There is bold use of texture too in the extended sax and drum break in the middle of the playful Entitled that seems to sit somewhere between the Township and the tropical. Again there’s the trumpet and bass duet in Microphone Fish that’s also bold enough to start with just Collier solo before developing a lush theme, taking a rollercoaster of ideas through almost 10 minutes. It’s probably the range of Colliers compositional ideas that places this into the truly exceptional camp with alternating currents of melodic beauty and complexity. That he’s a very capable bassist is never in doubt and there are some hints of Mingus’ fire amongst the inventive interplay, but also a British or wider European sensibility too that pulls in the direction modernism almost to the point of minimalism in places. But then there’s also a lightness of touch and swinging joie de vivre that gives the band the chance to swing. Demanding, but what rewards?