Tag Archives: folk

The Staves, Junction J1, Cambridge, 24 September 2021

Live music at last!

First onstage was US singer/songwriter Samantha Crain, a performer with a quiet authority evident from the first track ‘Joey’; a languid leisurely waltz with the gentle instrumentation as a perfect platform for her rich vocals. The tempo was increased for ‘Pastime’ and through her short set her accompanying musician played pedal steel, second guitar and keys to add extra colour to the involving narrative strengths of the songs. A highlight was the emotive tale told in ‘Elk City’, sung to a solo guitar as her overall performance effortlessly won over the audience.

The Staves create an intimate and welcoming musical atmosphere; opening song ‘Failure’ features the harmonies and indie folk rock ambience that instantly draws the listener in. Sisters Camilla and Jessica (Emily is currently not touring) are joined by an empathetic band that knows how much to push the sound forward or keep in the background more for a track like ‘Good Woman’; the title song from the 2021 album that makes up most of the set.

The songs can move into moody territory like the walk through a dark forest of ‘Blood I Bled’ or luxuriate in the deceptively simple beauty of ‘Make It Holy’. It all flew by in a delicious haze of ethereal melody and musical textures, a triumphant performance after too long away..

https://www.thestaves.com/

https://www.samanthacrain.com/

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Tape Runs Out : Ode to Barry, single released 8 September 2021

A new single from Cambridge ensemble Tape Runs Out is a dreamy tribute to the bearded dragon belonging to lead singer Liam.

Starting with a hypnotic figure generated by the haunting sonics of the hammered dulcimer the track adds layers of acoustic texture to produce a stately paean to the precious pet ‘….Barry you know we’re here for you….Barry won’t you stay with us…’.

The song gently eases along but continues to build the boldness of the sound with strings, a guitar solo and overall a feeling of melancholy and lost prog-folk drifting off into the ether. Watching the video it doesn’t seem like the languid lizard is going to wander too far away anyway, but this track acts as a splendid showcase for the instrumental possibilities and otherworldly viewpoint of future recordings from this unique group of musicians.

https://www.taperunsout.co.uk/

https://www.trappedanimal.com/home

review of 2020 EP ‘Sleepwalking Into A Fire’ here

Fuzzy Lights : Burials, LP released 2 July 2021

A new LP from Cambridge folk-psych collective Fuzzy Lights delivers on many levels. Opening track ‘Maidens Call’ threads a contemplative vocal over a loping bass line with violin interludes, but it is the second track ‘Songbird’ that opens the consciousness into a ten minute psychedelic workout, full of energy, colour and a voice that inhabits the darkness.

‘Graveyard Song’ strips the sound back into a sinister medieval acoustic ballad gradually building into a big instrumental coda. There is so much going on in this excellent album, like the languid interlude and speculative history of ‘Haraldskaer Woman’ contrasting with the sweeping folk-rock momentum of ‘Under The Waves’. ‘Sirens’ is possibly my favourite; with the descending chord sequence, timeless and mysterious vocal, dissonant chorus and enough noise to lose yourself in.

Ending with the ‘The Gathering Storm’, using all of its nearly seven minutes running time to build atmospheric musings over a persistent bass note this album pulls you in for an unchartered musical journey….

Welcome to Fuzzy Lights

Fuzzy Lights (bandcamp.com)

Flaming June : The Ballad of Daniel Dawson, single released 18 June 2021

Flaming June releases a new single, ahead of an album called ‘Hope in a Jar’ due in the autumn of 2021. From her lockdown attic songwriter Louise Eatock has carefully crafted a follow-up to her 2018 release ‘The Women’s Battalion’, a timely reminder of the historic struggle to improve the inequalities of the voting system one hundred years ago. Musically it was restless and urgent, with the powerful rhythm guitar duelling with the incisive violin from collaborator Alex Herring. That intensity and music combination carries into this new song; a fast paced likeable folk soundtrack to a very dark tale.

Daniel Dawson was hanged in 1812 in Cambridge (in front of a crowd of 12,000 people as it was market day in the city!?) for poisoning race horses at Newmarket. Louise’s lyrics tell the courtroom story and see Daniel as the scapegoat for unseen powerful figures ‘…just swallow down that bitter pill…I’m just one cheat among many…a little minnow plucked from the shallows…’ and concludes that ‘….he’s a lesson that we can learn from…’, with an undertone of resignation.

Transferring a wider issue into an individual case ‘protest song’ to give extra impact and make an issue more relatable is a little used but very effective song writing tool – Bob Dylan has a few including ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ and ‘Hurricane’ – now ‘The Ballad of Daniel Dawson’ joins the list and reminds us that many of these societal injustices and themes just keep repeating…

Flaming June (flamingjunemusic.com)

Flaming June : The Firework Maker’s Daughter, EP released December 2018 | cambridgemusicreviews

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Chloe Foy : Where Shall We Begin, LP released June 2021

A track by track review of the debut LP from singer/songwriter Chloe Foy….

1.Where Shall We Begin. Setting the tone for the collection, an acoustic dreampop delight where the guitar shadows the vocal line. Gorgeous.

2.Deserve. A slow and longer meditation, peppered with restrained electric guitar, layers of vocal lines and gradual build up of atmosphere.

3.Work of Art. More tightly structured than some of the tracks, this compact pop song is driven by the insistent melody line; grounded by the bass, drums and empathetic guitar.

4.Evangeline. A definite favourite of mine, the musical triplets are joined by an endless selection of musical combinations as the stately melody serenely soars above with the sensual lyrics ‘…Evangeline…you are my queen I promise that I’ll keep you warm…’

5.Asylum. A prime example of the haunting-folk genre that Chloe inhabits, where the sonic textures of strings and harp complement the vocals perfectly, carefully arranged and produced by album collaborator Harry Fausing Smith.

6.Bones. Adrift on a becalmed sea, the rich vocal from Chloe is adorned by a dark and moody instrumental mix.

7.Shining Star. Uptempo, hypnotic and mysterious ‘…fears untold and false absolve be true to who you are…faster now, you’re dancing now…you’ll be my shining star…’

8.Left-Centred Weight. Previously released as a single this is a showcase for the smooth and mellow tones of Chloe’s voice as the languid strings emerge over the horizon and create a semi-orchestral extravaganza.

9.And It Goes. The longest track on the album, a free form late night jazzy-folk reverie with contrasting sections, unpredictable diversions and finally drifting off into the cosmos.

10.Square Face. Possibly saving the best till last, this is a timeless and traditional sounding folk melody over a reassuring background of strings and a waltzing piano. The unaccompanied vocal towards the end lingers long in the memory as an emotional representation of this superb album.

Chloe Foy

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Katie Spencer : Hurt In Your Heart, EP released April 2021

Like the revered Nick Drake, the musical legacy of John Martyn grows in stature, none more so than the mid-period emotional landscapes of albums ‘One World’ (1977) and the extraordinary ‘Grace And Danger’ (1980). Singer/songwriter/guitarist Katie Spencer has collaborated with two members of Martyn’s band (Alan Thomson and Spencer Cozens) for this trio of tracks.

Lead song ‘Hurt In Your Heart’ builds an atmosphere around the stately descending chord sequence using a waterfall of piano, fretless bass and the warm tones of effects-drenched guitar. Katie’s voice weaves through the ethereal delight and endlessly beguiles the listener.

‘Couldn’t Love You More’ is not just one of the best JM tracks, it is one of the best love songs ever written. The tidal flow of the original’s time signature has been adapted to a gentle waltz in this gorgeous version and Katie has captured the spirit of the lyric which I always thought concealed a yearning and loss beneath the surface sentiments.

The concluding extended jazz-ambience of ‘Small Hours’ takes time to create the mellow platform for the brief but effective vocal. Martyn never achieved the recognition he deserved before his death in 2009, but this empathetic collection helps to keep his music alive.

HOME | Katie Spencer

John Martyn – Official website of the maverick singer and songwriter

Knomad Spock : Winter Of Discontent, LP released May 2021

This is the debut album from musician/songwriter Knomad Spock, interweaving influences from folk scenes across the world, combining with spoken word poetry, found sounds and a vocal style that complements the genre fluid music of the ten tracks.

To get an idea of the scope of the album listen to opener ‘Papillon’ as you watch the accompanying video of deserted post-industrial London buildings. The song is easy-paced and mellow, the sparse instruments weaving around the main bass note before a new musical section heralds the yearning of repeated lines ‘….if we can make it through the winter….if we can make it through the storm…’. Contrast this minor epic with the pastoral springtime optimism of ‘Gift’. The video is as refreshing as the mandolin that shines through on this timeless and airy folk.

The urgency and abrupt percussion of ‘Egypt’ is countered by the gentle, haunting swing of ‘Spirit Level’ and the longer free-form part whispered meditation of ‘Know’. Just when you think the collection is moving into ambience and dreamier territory the unpredictable ‘Poles’ breaks all the genre rules. The Dylanesque opening falls apart after key lyric ‘…and the oceans laughed when she said I can swallow you whole…and I’m in the middle…’ and turns into a wandering dissonance of orchestral sounds and wayward vocals.

After that shining avant-garde diversion the album plays out with more surprises; first the time bending symphonic fireworks after the fuse-burning introduction of ‘Ballad’ and then the final evocation and reminiscence in the spoken word, piano and natural sounds of ‘Maps’, bringing this creatively rich collection to a close and staying in the listener’s mind for long after.

Knomad Spock (bandcamp.com)

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In Conversation: Knomad Spock “If you can’t have compassion for someone else, you can’t have compassion for yourself”

Léanie Kaleido : How to Weigh a Whale Without a Scale, LP released March 2021

Singer/songwriter Léanie Kaleido released her debut album ‘Karamelien’ in 2005, ‘Quicksands and Shadows’ in 2014 and now this enigmatically titled new collection.

Her songs exist in a timeless flow of voices and waterfall piano, seeming to sound simultaneously intimate and broad in scope. Opener ‘All The Things I’m Made Of’ illustrates this perfectly as the dual vocal threads its magic through the echoing instrumentation, before returning to the impressionistic piano figure.

The pensive waltz of ‘Nobody’s Hero’ is a poetic character description with a spiralling chorus, then Léanie’s gentle voice reveals the mystery of the title track ‘…..do you really need to analyse…love is love it has no size…its like trying to weigh a whale without a scale…’. Four minutes of musings and meanderings interweave with the cyclical chord arrangement and harp sound to produce an effective and addictively gorgeous track.

I like the pastoral indie-folk sounds of ‘Mr Dragonfly’ along with the retro-fun of ‘Hat Thief’ where the acoustic guitar is to the fore. The emotional core of the album is probably the final two tracks, the heartbreak recollection and assertion of ‘Teapot Girl’ over stately layers of keyboards, followed by the clever melody, lyrical allusions and soaring chorus of ‘Kite String Mantra’.

Like a dense and rich forest it is an album of mystery and romance to completely lose yourself in.

Léanie Kaleido – The world in the back of a spoon (leanie.com)

Natasha Nicole : Alright In The End, single released 26 March 2021

Singer/songwriter Natasha Nicole from Wolverhampton UK has put everything into this debut single, creating five minutes of welcoming meditations.

Beginning with a folk-inspired waltzing acoustic guitar and an immediate, inviting lyric ‘….go home…kick back….cut yourself some slack….you don’t need to carry this load alone…’, Natasha’s pure voice sets the tone. Additional instruments join in and the vocal becomes more ethereal as the music evolves into more dream-pop territory. The listener is eventually immersed in the big, reassuring chorus, ‘…it will be alright in the end…’ which though sounding comforting still has a slight undercurrent of doubt.

The track flies by; at the end a brass solo adds to the polish on the sheen of the production and immediately you want to hear this gorgeous and timeless track again….

Natasha Nicole | Facebook

Grrrlgroannn | Facebook

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Katy Kirby : Cool Dry Place, LP released 19 Feb 2021

The new LP from Texas-based singer/songwriter Katy Kirby is refreshing, lyrically challenging and hints of summers to come in its music.

The short and sparse ‘Eyelids’ sets the dreamlike tone for the collection; acoustic guitar and piano complementing the beguiling vocal. With music and words that seem not quite aligned but very much in a good way ‘Juniper’ has one of those chord sequences that sounds like it is constantly catching up with itself and instantly lodges in your brain. A relaxed voice effortlessly flows above the uncluttered backing, sometimes giving way to just a lone guitar. The imagery of the lyrics ‘…you don’t need a gardener to know…which way the blossoms going to float….’ meshes seamlessly with the instrumentation, with extra nuances through the two and a half minutes running time. According to Katy “This is a song about motherhood, mostly...’.

The jumpier rhythm and hesitations of ‘Peppermint’ is followed by the delicate and playfully addictive ‘Traffic!’. Previously released as a single this gorgeous dancing melody is a winner, with a hook to immerse yourself in. A guitar solo, heavenly choir and electronic voice treatments all add to the mix.

The LP is packed full of treats, including the quiet piano ballad of ‘Portals’ and probably best of all the leisurely musings, big chorus and grand finale of title track ‘Cool Dry Place’ followed by the enigmatic low-key bookend of ‘Fireman’.

At the intersection of indie pop, lo-fi folk and perfectly crafted song writing this is a gorgeous debut album.

Katy Kirby (kirbykaty.com)

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