This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
VAMM Vamm VAMM002
Heard the one about the two fiddles and the Låtmandola? No? How about the one about the Shetlander, the Norwegian and the Perthite? There’s no punchline sadly but they do make fabulous music together.
Vamm is an old Shetland word for ‘bewitch’, apparently, and, playing with an unusual purity laced with an avalanche of melodic ideas and arresting tunes, they certainly do that. But then, you’d probably expect this from three musicians of their pedigree: Catriona Macdonald spent 12 years as a Blazing Fiddler, Patsy Reid built her reputation as a top-notch fiddle player with Breabach and the rhythm powerhouse Marit Fält has built an impressive reputation playing her Nordic mandola in a duo with Rona Wilkie.
Easing themselves away from the comparative rigidity of their previous incarnations, they clearly relish the relative freedom afforded by this line-up, playing a bountiful array of tunes written by the varied likes of Aidan O’Rourke, Jim Sutherland and Jerry Holland. They create a big sound too, which is both vivacious and elegant, without grandstanding or milking it as they glide from pipe tunes to a Canadian Creole dance, a gorgeous Scott Skinner piece (Castle Grant) and, perhaps best of all, a liberal taste of Scandinavian folk music. In particular there’s a complex and thoughtful arrangement of Lurkas by Olof Misgeld; but some of the most memorable tunes come courtesy of Marit Fält, whose percussive style gives the whole thing a meaty presence.
While they offer contrasting styles, the fiddles of Reid and Macdonald flit lithely and almost impudently around one another – switching from gentle and alluring to wild and dynamic with one stealthy sweep of bowing and a subtle change in rhythm. There are no songs and they don’t need them – joyous playing speaks volumes.
• www.vamm.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
SIMONE ALVES & YANN GOURVIL Astrakan Project Carga 015
Simone Alves and Yann Gourvil
Sometimes I get hoist by my own prejudices and preconceived ideas. So it was that I glanced at the back of this album, noted the legend “A colourful and delicate oriental shine over wild Celtic music”, and the dread vision of Loreeena Newage materialised. And so it festered unplayed in the ‘oh f*** do I really have to listen to this?’ pile on my desk for several weeks, until we were just about to go press with this issue.
Don’t do that at home. Should a copy of this CD appear in your letterbox, hopefully because this review may have alerted you to it, seize it and put it in your player straight away. You will not be disappointed.
For ‘Celtic’, do not read ‘wifty-wafty-synthy-twee’, but instead gloriously full-throated, truly inspiring Breton singing and melodies from Simone Alves. For ‘a colourful and delicate oriental shine’, read ‘roaring, intricate, fiery, imaginative accompaniments’ from multi-instrumentalist Yann Gourvil on oud, electric saz (or baglama as the Turks call it), violin and programmed percussion.
Indeed, for ‘oriental’, don’t read ‘Far East’ as we Brits tend to use it, but ‘from the Eastern reaches of the Mediterranean’. It’s the sort of production that wouldn’t sound out of place on the better contemporary Turkish roots records – it turns out that they’ve lived and studied in Istanbul for the past few years – and it’s obviously a close relative to what Kristi Stassinopoulou & Stathis Kalyviotis did with Greekadelia. In fact I’d christen it Breton-Turkadelia if I hadn’t run out of credit in the ‘name a genre a day’ fund.
When I hit them up for a copy of the biog that this maltreated review copy had obviously got separated from, I found that they were involved in one of the sainted Erik Marchand’s inspiring projects that included Ross Daly, Thierry ‘Titi’ Robin and Keyvan Chemirani. That makes complete sense, and they are justifiably spoken of in the same breath as those iconic names. And if that doesn’t get you people who know about that sort of thing reaching for your credit cards, I don’t know what will.
A truly fabulous, spirit-raising album.
RADIO COS Radio Cos Fol Música 100FOL1067
Quique (Henrique) Peón and his sister Mercedes learned from and recorded musicians around Galicia’s villages, and he played percussion in the band put together to play the music on her wonderful first album Isué. He’s become a leading choreographer of folk-dance-based spectacles, but in the duo Radio Cos, with fellow singer-pandeireteiro Xurxo Fernandes, he’s a singer and player of pandeireta (tambourine), making robust, jubilant music with its heart in the old way of gutsy acoustic music that was the sound of Galicia’s homes, streets, bars and fiestas before big stages and amplification.
Only now, after gigging around Galicia and abroad for some nine years, has the duo committed to CD and, as with Mercedes’s debut, it releases a pent-up force of rich material, powerfully sung and played, handled beautifully by up-front, non-studio-timid production.
Quique and Xurxo are joined by accordeonist Xan Pampin, violinist Nikolay Velikov and Pedro Lamas on gaitas, soprano sax, dulzaina and other reeds, adding in a bunch of other thumpy and clattery traditional percussion and sounds of the street, bars, vehicles, voices, cowboy-film gunshots and exuberant shouts and cackles of alegría carrying the music along in a rich, engaging, vivid stream.
It’s mostly Galician traditional music, but also has exotic touches from the ‘café aman’ mix of Sephardic and Ottoman musics that Xurxo focuses on in another project, Jako El Muzikante, while Ándele Imende lurches happily in a Mexican cantina direction complete with spaghetti-Western gunshots.
Magnificent, huge fun. Straight to the heart of Galician music, and onto my ‘all-time favourites’ shelf, alongside Mercedes’s Isué.
• www.folmusica.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
AMADOU DIAGNE Yakar Waulk Records WAULK 06
SIMO LAGNAWI Gnawa London Waulk Records WAULK 05
Like all the best albums, Amadou Diagne’s latest sets the tone from the get go: plaintive, acoustic and brimming with an unhurried assurance. This is the second album from Bath-based Senegalese singer-guitarist Diagne, following a perfectly decent debut on Riverboat Records last year, which all but got lost in the flood of major West African releases put out at about the same time. No danger of that happening with Yakar
which features Diagne with violinist/producer Griselda Sanderson and occasional contributions from Alloune Samb on keyboards, guitar and bass, guitarist Louis Bingham, bass player Pete Josef and Moroccan gnawa Simo Lagnawi on vocals. Ten originals, plus three traditional tunes, all imaginatively arranged and all featuring Diagne’s honey-smoked vocals. Griselda Sanderson has got previous when it comes to this sort of thing, having collaborated with Juldeh Camara on the estimable Julaba Kunda project a couple of years back. But however good that was (and it was) I think Yakar is even better and Sanderson’s sympathetic playing is a major contributor. It’s becoming something of a cliché to compare every interesting new acoustic West African album to Baaba Maal’s classic Djam Leelii
, but sometimes only a cliché will do!
Simo Lagnawi gets his own Sanderson-produced album all to himself. And it really is all to himself, just the gnawa man about London town (he plays in all kinds of settings, including Anglo-Moroccan psychedelic wig-out merchants Electric Jalaba) on vocals, percussion and the gumbri lute, multi-tracked so as to sound like a full ensemble (a one-man gnawa band) with the crack of krakeb (the big metal castanets that are said to send the listener into a trance), the thump of the gumbri and overlapping vocal chants. Like Diagne’s album, Gnawa London was beautifully recorded at Manor Studios, with a lovely intimate sound, but this is a much more straight-ahead album, none the worse for it and very appealing if you’re in the mood for a bit of acoustic Moroccan trance bliss-out, which quite often of an evening, I find I am.
AND THE REST… The albums - good, adequate and plain bad - which didn't get the full-length treatment, contributed individually by a selection of our various reviewers cowering under the cloak of collective anonymity. For example…
Bert Jansch Heartbreak (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-43)
30th anniversary two-disc edition of Jansch’s long-deleted 1982 album, presenting the original LP remastered plus a previously-unissued, roughly contemporary complete live set from McCabe’s Guitar Shop. The package is worth having for that brilliantly intimate dark-days live show alone. www.omnivorerecordings.com
Unni Boksasp Ensemble Kvite Fuglar (Own label UBE 1)
Norwegian singer and zither player backed in her own trad-rooted songs, including the catchy singalong Reveenka, by a substantial acoustic band of twin hardanger fiddles, harmonium, piano, double bass and ace Swedish percussionist Petter Berndalen. It might take a while to engage with her traditional vocal microtonality, but it’s worth it. www.boksasp.no
Marcus Corbett Strung Deep (Marco CD1003)
A Kent-born singer-songwriter and guitarist with an Indian slant. The half-hour on this release has its moments but the entirety fails to sway. Never wholly convincing lyrically in post-ISB English or musically in either C or Sa. www.marcuscorbett.com
Union Jill Respectable Rebellion (Independent)
Clive Gregson produces and plays on the third album from Helen Turner and Sharon Winfield. An Indigo Girls vibe informs the best songs, about female icons and trailblazers, and the duo’s voice and guitars blend into a pleasant listen with a feisty edge. www.unionjill.org
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down