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Sunday
Jul232017

Reviews by Eilis Boland

Furnace Mountain Shadow Of Plenty Self Release

An absolute joy from start to finish, this sixth album from well established Virginian old time string band Furnace Mountain cements their reputation as one of the foremost exponents of the music, bar none.

Superbly produced by their own Danny Nicely, who also plays mandolin and guitar throughout, the vocal duties are ably shared by the other three members. 

Rooted in the traditional Appalachian folk tradition, the timeless quality of the music is exemplified by the title track, Shadow Of Plenty. The pure harmony vocals of Morgan Morrison and Aimee Curl evoke the vision of a pastoral idyll, but by the end of the song, one is left with a foreboding that the bounteous façade is overhung by a dark cloud.

David Van Deventer ain’t called Fiddlin’ Dave for nothing – he’s a demon on his instrument! He also writes much of the music and sometimes the lyrics. His vocal style and indeed his playing is reminiscent of the late fiddle maestro John Hartford – particularly evident on his songs Ramblin’ Jack and The Last Song. The ironically named Inchworm Set showcases the skills of the whole band, where Dave’s fiddling interweaves with bouzouki (unusually) and mandolin, backed up by bass, and all at breakneck speed.

While most of the album relies on original material, there are a few covers, the most memorable of which is the oft-covered love song, Ewan McColl’s First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Here Aimee and Morgan blend their voices in a delicate near-perfect rendition of this beautiful song- a version I would like to think Peggy Seeger herself would approve of.

The sleeve is beautifully illustrated and there’s no need for a lyric sheet here - the well honed vocals are true and clear.

Red Herring Here To Distract You Self Release

This is the third offering (and second studio recording) from the Dutch folk roots string band, who are regulars on the folk club and festival scene in mainland Europe. The standard of musicianship throughout this self-produced recording is superb, and each of the four band members is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. Their influences are wide – there are obvious bluegrass, folk, jazz and celtic elements to many of their songs and instrumentals.

The fiddle chops of Joram Peeters and his versatility of tune writing is showcased in the instrumental set of three tunes Pigs Upon A Ninja. It moves from a Scandinavian influenced tune into a gypsy jazz number, and then, in the uplifting final funky tune, one is deliciously blasted by the uileann pipes (yes, you heard me correctly) of guest Michael Boere. 

The Beaten Track was co-written by Arthur Deighton in the aftermath of the loss of his sister, and he sings it sensitively, with sweet banjo contributed by guest Floris De Vries.

Dougie MacLean’s ballad on the pain of emigration, Garden Valley (familiar to Irish audiences from the singing of Cara Dillon) is still topical and the lead vocals are taken by bassist Loes van Schaijk, with Floris de Vries on dobro.

Loes also writes and sings the opening song, No Hearts Won – its beautiful tune is a winner, but as on many of the songs here, it is let down by clumsy lyrics. Joram Peeters’ talent in composing tunes is again overshadowed by the lyrics in the sublime country blues of A Loved Man’s Lonely Blues, and the less said about the attempt at humour in his Rather Die Alone, the better!

Joram redeems himself  though on the delightful jazz-inflected instrumental WhatsApp Doc which he cowrote with Arthur Deighton, featuring both of them on duelling mandolins and more tasty banjo from Floris De Vries. There are also covers of two bluegrass standards – Uphill Climb from the pen of Chris Jones and Don Reno’s Barefoot Nellie.

This release is accompanied by a beautifully produced booklet, with notes on each track and quirky, attractive artwork. An interesting album, though probably not for the bluegrass purist. The services of an independent producer could help to iron out the blips next time around.

Martin Harley & Daniel Kimbro Static In The Wires Del Mundo 

From the opening chords of this album, one is thrown straight into the country blues of the Deep South … but the surprise is that Martin Harley is an Englishman! He has previously fallen under my radar– but I am very pleased to make his acquaintance now.

A phenomenal guitarist, particularly an exponent of lap slide, Martin is also a talented songwriter with a strong distinctive voice. Martin’s musical compadre may be familiar to you already – Daniel Kimbro has been the bass player with the Jerry Douglas Band for the past four years. A Tennessean with a bluegrass background, Daniel has collaborated with many well regarded fellow Americana musicians, and just recently played on the Transatlantic Sessions first American tour.

Although regarded as a bassist, Daniel also contributes piano and guitar here, as well as coproducing with Martin Harley on this Nashville studio recording. The two have been friends and collaborators since they were introduced by mutual friend Sam Lewis a few years ago, and this is their second recording together.

In a recording of superb songs, it’s almost impossible to highlight one above the others. Gold is a particularly delicious slice of sultry down home folky blues, that of a contented man who has found the peace he’s been searching for.

There are jazz and soul inflections throughout, and Daniel’s sometime boss, Flux himself, guests on dobro on Feet Don’t Fail Me. The lyrics are never clichéd – themes range from escaping from ‘one horse towns’ and ‘mean old cities’, and thankfully there aren’t many broken hearts to contend with.

This is a match made in heaven, with Martin Harley’s guitar work and songwriting matched by the musical innovation of Daniel Kimbro. Not to be missed.

Cormac O Caoimh Shiny Silvery Things Self Release

Corkman Cormac O Caoimh releases his fourth album, well produced and recorded in his native city, with a host of local musicians aiding and abetting. All twelve songs are originals, with O Caoimh taking the lead vocals, and Aoife Regan contributing backing vocals on all songs.

Almost all of the songs have a predominantly 80s pop rock feel – think Paul Heaton/Prefab Sprout meets Paddy McAloon, but without the latter’s cynical insight, perhaps. There’s lots of melodic guitar work from O Caoimh, and pleasant piano and keyboard contributions from Cormac O’Connor.

Deviation from the 80s sound is really only hinted at in a few of the songs – In The Hollow Of An Old Oak surprises with it’s swamp rock feel; there’s a welcome funky bass backbeat and saxophone let loose in A Parked Car; and the title track itself strays into jazz pop territory.

The lyrics stand up well on their own. At times cryptic, any of them could be read aloud as works of spoken word. The cover is complemented with photos of – yes, shiny silvery things.

 

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