This week sees new releases from Quebec band Le Vent Du Nord, Mawkin and Scots singer/songwriter Ewan McLennan.
Le Vent du Nord – Tromper le Temps (Borealis)
Ten years of touring and recording together have honed the foot-tapping instrumentals and lush harmonies that grace the seventh album from award-winning Quebecois band Le Vent du Nord. Pooling years of experience from playing in some of the top bands on the Quebec music scene – La Bottine Souriante, La Volée d’Castors, among others – the four singers and multi-instrumentalists who make up Le Vent du Nord soon made a name for themselves as part of the noughties new wave, rejuvenating the tradition and taking it in new directions.
The customary foot percussion, glorious call-and-response vocals, lively dance tunes and catchy choruses are all in abundance on their latest offering, where fairytales sit alongside songs of love, national identity and family ties. Sparking ideas off one another, Olivier Demers’ driving fiddle and Nicolas Boulerice’s hurdy-gurdy shape Le Dragon de Chimay; Boulerice and Rejean Brunet provide some lovely piano and accordion arrangements on Le Souhait, complementing Simon Beaudry’s rhythmic guitar playing. Elsewhere, Le Reve d’Adrien is cleverly spun from Le Coeur de ma Mere while Le Diable & Le Fermier – “an act of social solidarity against the reckless development of shale gas” – delivers a punch with its marching feet. There are moments of respite amid the liveliness – the atmospheric Manteau d’Hiver reel, the filmic setting of Dans les Cachots and the gentle closer, Souffle d’Ange – but it’s not long before you’ll be up dancing again. Magic! [Reviewed by Sofi]
Catch Le Vent du Nord touring the UK from 31st May – 11th June 2012
Mawkin – Crow (Goodform Records)
For a while around the release of The Awkward Recruit in 2009, it looked like Mawkin:Causley would sweep all before them. It wasn’t to be and the collaboration, which drew multiple Folk Award nominations and earned them a somewhat wry folk-boy-band billing, dissolved. Mawkin, however, took it all in their stride and although the retirement of Alex Goldsmith saw Nick Cooke drafted in on melodeon with drummer Lee Richardson also joining the ranks, the reinvigorated band revisit their instrumental roots, with a couple or three choice guest vocal slots.
It’s a bold move that confirms their early promise is maturing nicely. The Delarre brothers at the band’s heart are skilled with guitars and fiddles, but it’s the interplay across the whole band, with bassist Danny Crump and the new boys all essential parts of the complex arrangements. The instruments dance around each other and mesh into grooves with hints of jazz, and European exoticism (even ska) that prove most enticing. With Eliza Carthy, Steve Knightley and Jim back for a track adding to David Delarre’s take on Ray Davies’ Harry Rag, there are songs to get your hooks into too. It’s complex, deep, rewarding but most importantly sounds fabulous. Mawkin rising! [Reviewed by Simon]
Ewan McLennan – The Last Bird To Sing (Fellside)
Ewan’s natural, raw talent as a singer and guitarist drew many admirers with the release of his debut album Rags & Robes in 2010 and won him the Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards last year. His latest offering reveals more of the thoughtful observer, intelligent songwriter, captivating storyteller and fine musician that Ewan has shown himself to be.
Joined by Karine Polwart on harmony vocals and John McCusker on fiddle for the opening track, Rolling Hills Of The Borders, Ewan’s weathered voice and lilting tone draw you into the story, his intricate guitar work providing the perfect accompaniment. Sublime slide guitar from Martin Simpson on Scots trad song Jamie Raeburn and McCusker’s tender fiddling on The Last Bird To Sing show a keen choice in his musical collaborators.
Unafraid to tackle songs of substance, Ewan delivers Banks Of Marble as a stark reminder that the social injustice witnessed and documented by American farmer Les Rice in 1949 remains as potent today, while Joe Glenton captures the story of an ex-British soldier who fought in Afghanistan and whose opposition to the war resulted in his imprisonment.
Among Ewan’s own songs, there’s a moving account of the plight of the Chilean miners trapped in the San Jose mine on Whistling The Esperanza, while the harsh realities of long-term unemployment are captured in the hauntingly beautiful The Last Bird To Sing. Time and again I’m reminded of the calibre of singers and songwriters such as Dick Gaughan, Martin Simpson, Christy Moore and Chris Wood. Ewan McLennan is one to watch. [Reviewed by Sofi]