This week sees new releases from Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, Samuel Yirga and Hat Fitz & Cara plus a 4-CD Properbox compilation of songs about the archetypes and architects of American roots music.
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman – Hidden People (Navigator Records)
Since Equation burned brightly in the folk firmament, three of that original group, Cara Dillon, Seth Lakeman and Kate Rusby, have become bona-fide folk stars. Kath and Sean, however, have rather taken a back seat, Sean in his brother’s band, while together they’ve also raised twin girls through early infanthood. But those in the know will still have seen the duo on an annual folk club pilgrimage and with the twins now of school age, this new CD should see their profile rightly on the rise.
Hidden People has been assembled between other projects, as the benefit of a home studio enabled recordings, initially just demos, to sit until the time was right for proper attention. That time is now and Sean’s growing reputation as a producer is an obvious benefit. The songs mix traditional themes of evil spirits in the woods, vengeful ghosts, animal transformation and the power of the blacksmith, through Huldra, Hang The Rowan, The White Hind and The Lusty Smith, with more modern concerns of embezzlement, corruption and party politics, through Money Or Jewels and The Ballad of Andy Jacobs. The latter in particular throws a devastating light on the lasting pain of the miners’ strike. [Reviewed by Simon]
Samuel Yirga – Guzo (Real World)
Samuel first came to international attention as the pianist in Dub Colossus – the group founded by guitarist and bass player Nick Page (aka Dubulah) – which successfully fused traditional Azmari music and Ethiopian jazz with Jamaican dub and reggae. Dubulah is the producer on Yirga’s solo debut, Guzo, featuring a fine cast of guests including the Creole Choir of Cuba, Iraqi-born British singer Mel Gareh, Ethiopian saxophonist Feleke Hailu and Nigerian-British singer Nicolette (Massive Attack). While their diverse influences help shape the dynamic, it’s Yirga’s vision that’s at the heart of this album, distilled from years of absorbing Ethiopia’s musical heritage (trad, pop and contemporary) as well as America’s (jazz, Latin, soul and funk) and underpinned by a classical training.
On the opening love song Abet Abet, brass punctuates the mysterious sounds of the Ethiopian messenqo (single stringed fiddle) and the traditional kebero (hand drum). Yirga creates his own jazzy space in Tiwista with drummer Clark Tracey keeping it tight and funky while the dream-like Ye Bati Koyita brings Samuel’s thoughtful playing to the fore. You can feel the mercury rising on his re-working of seventies soul classic I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun with the soaring vocals of The Creole Choir of Cuba and Mel Gareh plus Ben Somers’ breathy flute work. Yirga gives the Dub Colossus horn section a full Latin workout on My Head, bringing it back down for the introspective Drop Me There, followed by the gorgeous vocals of Genet Masresha on The Blues of Wollo.
It’s an impressive debut, charting the journey (Guzo in Amharic) of a remarkable young pianist. [Reviewed by Sofi]
Various Artists – Ramblers, Gamblers, Vagabonds And Revelers: 100 Songs By And About The Archetypes And Architects Of American Roots Music (Properbox)
Covering much the same time span and social demography as the Lonesome Whistle Properbox set which came out in May, and featuring some of the same performers in the mix, the themes of this equally well-informed 4-CD anthology of roots recordings from the 1920s to the 50s are self-explanatory.
Audiophiles should be warned that early recordings are crackly transfers from shellac, which is entirely appropriate. It would be alarming if they were suddenly booming out in quadraphonic sound. Together with Lonesome Whistle, it comprises an eloquent diary of southern expression of the dispossessed either prevailing over circumstance, or simply falling by the wayside. Many of the recordings provided repertoire for 50s UK skiffle, which in turn inspired the follow-up generation of British beat groups – along with rock ‘n’ roll. Includes an informative booklet on the history of American roots music and detailed information on each of the 100 tracks. [Reviewed by Cliff White]
A quick double-take at the hirsute, weather-beaten visage of Hat Fitz may be needed, but before you utter “Sea…” let me put you straight. This Australian duo is something else and something special. Sure enough, the National Steel and washboard offer most of the musical clues you need and the rusting wreckage that serves as a backdrop to the cover picture adds another, but then there’s Cara Robinson, big voiced, provider of the percussive pulse and plenty more besides.
The opener Power, with its gospel call and response and live atmospherics also throws another element into the mix, namely Jeff Lang’s excellent production. The fellow Aussie guitarist is superb in his own right, but there’s clearly some alchemy at work. There’s some of their country’s history wrapped up in Eliza Blue and Company Underground. Play Me Something New meanwhile is a moving, Waitsian ballad that maybe explains where all of this comes from and shows that they have more than enough variety to keep your toes tapping. Apparently they’re even better live – now that I must see. [Reviewed by Simon]
Hat Fitz & Cara are currently touring the UK – check out their dates HERE.