This week’s new releases include albums from John Surman, Rory Block, Laurence Jones and Folk Police’s Weirdlore: Notes From The Folk Underground.
John Surman – Saltash Bells (ECM)
Surman has always been a musician of wide-ranging interests, but the bucolic resonances of rural England seem to bring out the lyric poet in him more than anything else. His first solo album since 1994 is a lovely reminder of rustic elements that have graced his previous recordings. Using soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, alto, bass and contrabass clarinets, harmonica and synthesizer, it’s a trawl through memories of his Devon roots that sparks his gift for creating personal, uniquely folk-like themes.
An impeccable sense of instrumental colour, contrast and counterpoint, deftly deployed in these beautiful evocations of time and place, enhances the impact of an album of great melodic charm and conceptual strength. It’s particularly true of the melancholy Winter Elegy, a moving, classy melody handled with a great sense of drama and contrast, and On Staddon Heights, where the bass clarinet floats over the rhythmic carpet like a Morris dancer to engage in a gorgeous pas de deux with the soprano. And an eery, haunting Whistman’s Wood, a dramatic Sailing Westwards (with just a hint of the exotic) and the glorious spaciousness of Saltash Bells add further testimony to the many-hued, yet ineffably English feel of this gorgeous album. [Reviewed by Ray Comiskey]
Rory Block – I Belong To The Band: A Tribute To Rev. Gary Davis (Stony Plain)
As a friend of the legendary guitar tutor, Rory Block was privileged to sit in as Stefan Grossman studied with the Reverend Gary Davis. From South Carolina, Davis was the only one of eight children to survive to adulthood, although he became blind as an infant. He developed a sophisticated and unique guitar style and became a fixture of the blues scene, first in Durham, North Carolina, where he was also ordained as a minister and later in 50s New York. Religion had a big influence on his music with Davis adopting a gospel style, but it was his guitar playing that particularly appealed to the folk revivalists of the early 60s like Grossman, who gave his musical career renewed momentum.
For Rory this is a labour of love and in the sleeve notes she reveals making I Belong To The Band had a profound emotional impact. The recollections of the time spent with Grossman and the chance to learn directly from one of the blues originals had left its mark. She’s also stretched her technique to try and be faithful to Davis, modestly admitting to a great difficulty in matching his unique style. The result is a guitarist’s treat. [Reviewed by Simon Holland]
Laurence Jones is an unassuming 18-year-old rock blues guitarist from Stratford Upon Avon whose impressive debut album has already projected him on to daytime Radio 2. Part of a new generation of artists who don’t easily fit into the demographics of middle-aged radio, but who are intent on blowing away the cobwebs and reinventing the genre in their own terms, Jones’ Thunder In The Sky draws on the past but looks to a brighter future. It’s an unlikely but successful meeting of tightly structured songs and unfettered passion channelled into well crafted arrangements, but without the safety net of experience. In many respects Laurence mirrors the younger Winwood in his Spencer Davis days, a natural talent blossoming in a bluesy environment but with his own songs.
The key to the album’s success is the seamless shift of the power trio’s live set from the stage to the studio. The opening rat-tat-tat drum break projects us into the tension-building Bad Girl and the band barely look back, exploring a poppy chorus on I’m Not Sticking Around and offering a funky tip of the hat to Oli Brown on Too Good. Laurence’s keen sense of dynamics also infuses the tightly wrapped guitar work on Gotta Get Back Up which cleverly evokes the self-affirming lyrics. Best of all is the smouldering title track, on which he fuses the deft touch of the younger Peter Green with Bonamassa-style vocals. It’s an impressive calling card.
[Reviewed by Pete Feenstra]
Various Artists – Weirdlore: Notes From The Folk Underground (Folk Police)
In 2012 acoustic music’s hip again, enter Manchester’s Folk Police Recordings, who’d noticed a growing trend amongst unplugged players reviving the spirit of acid folk. Add Jeanette Leech publishing the ultimate encyclopedia for psych folk and there could be something stirring in the shires and village greens. Thus a handsomely packaged sampler of some sane, some less sane and some totally out there acts who could be said to drink from a deeper well.
Listen carefully and you can hear faint comebacks of The Incredible String Band, pysch folk granddads who wore garish clothes and played exotic instruments with free form abandon, especially Alasdair Roberts who could be Robin Williamson with Haruspex Of Paradox, or The Witches on Come With Me. Listen again, darker echoes crop up as Rapunzel & Sedayne’s trad The Innocent Hare is gothic and northern. Strange too, the chanted track by Pamela Wyn Shannon from an unreleased collection of plant mantras. In similar territory, Telling The Bees sing of tree worship, whilst pagan airs and chorus crowd Katie Rose’s Witches’ Reel.
If that’s not odd enough, The False Beards serve up twisted blues whilst Starless & Bible Black offer a warped lullaby, yet the most appealing is perhaps the most straightforward. Molecatcher by Harp And A Monkey may have taken liberties with the lyric of Bernard Wrigley’s original, but it remains the most amusing piece, a tale of bed-hopping and mole traps! Ouch! [Reviewed by Simon Jones]