This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
DAFNÉ KRITHARAS Djoyas De Mar Lior Editions LI001/1
To the list of entrancing women singers of Judeo-Spanish or Ladino music such as the more familiar Mor Karbasi or Yasmin Levy you can add this very fine young Greek/ French singer.
Biographical info is thin on the ground – she doesn’t even seem to have a web site – but apparently 26-year-old Dafné was born in Paris to a Greek father and French mother, and – in the same way that Karbasi is part of a duo with guitar accompanist partner Joe Taylor – her Facebook page indicates that she’s normally to be found working live in a duo with guitarist/singer Paul Barreyre whose considerable talents are a key part of this album’s arrangements. Others participating are her cousin, improvising pianist Camille El Bacha (think Bojan Z in places), and percussionist Naghib Shanbehzadeh. All three accompanying musicians are top of their game and provide perfect, mostly understated settings – even in complicated time signatures – in which Kritharas’ lovely voice can make its mark without resorting to unnecessary over-emoting.
What makes this record shine in its own right alongside those other Judeo-Spanish singers is the Greek flavour of seven of the twelve tracks, mostly rembetika and songs from Smyrna originating in the 1920s and ‘30s. There’s just the right smattering of more familiar songs, though the beautiful piano-accompanied Bournovalia that closes the album doesn’t seem to be the celebrated song of the same title recorded back in the 1920s by the legendary Marika Papagika. And among the Ladino tracks, her version of the familiar La Rosa Enflorece, aka Los Bibilicos (the nightingales) is impeccable.
Like many beautiful, subtle and under-stated records, it’s an absolute grower. A few times through and it’s hard to prise it out of the CD player. Hear one of the more upbeat tracks on this issue’s fRoots 69 compilation.
NORMA WATERSON & ELIZA CARTHY with THE GIFT BAND Anchor Topic 00478
Photo: Elly Lucas
Eliza Carthy and Norma Waterson
Emotion runs high listening to this. It’s seven years or so since Norma Waterson fell into a coma resulting from a leg infection after a concert following the release of their last album together, the majestic Gift
. We feared the worst for a while and the likelihood that she’d ever get back in the studio certainly seemed remote. But they’re made of stern stuff those Watersons and, with unfinished business to attend to, Norma regained her voice and, with Neill MacColl and Kate St John converting the old Fisherhead Congregational Church in Robin Hood’s Bay into a studio for the occasion, Norma and Eliza finally continue where they left off with the follow-up to Gift
But as you’d expect from this family, not one scrap of sentiment is involved in the formidable strength it wields. As the album opens with an eerie bass line, a dark and mysterious melody and Norma’s familiar voice leading us into Tom Waits’ brooding Strange Weather you know that safe and cosy was never going to be an option. And the greatest fear – does Norma still even have a voice? – is instantly blown out of the water.
Then there’s vintage Eliza leading the family on a dramatic, barnstorming Elfin Knight that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wayward Band set, so the rest of the album is no more predictable. A reflectively fragile take on Michael Marra’s The Beast In Me; an object lesson in building tension and passion by restraint on a beautifully weighted arrangement of Pete Bellamy’s setting of Kipling’s The Widow’s Party; a sensitive excursion into show tune territory on Kurt Weill’s Lost In The Stars which – East End piano at full tilt – explodes into a delicious Eric Idle comedy track The Galaxy Song.
Martin Carthy’s presence is felt quite prominently throughout, not least singing with his wife and daughter on KT Tunstall’s acutely poignant Shanty Of The Whale – a song she was apparently inspired to write listening to the Watersons; and revisiting his greatest hit, Scarborough Fair. I could perhaps do without the swing version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star but, paying homage to all corners of the vast canvas which has shaped them over the years – Wild Colonial Boy is a tribute to Margaret Barry – the overriding mellowness colludes with beautiful arrangements and the simple power of human voices in inspirational unity to create a very special album.
• www.topicrecords.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
BLOWZABELLA Two Score Blowzabella 4
Photo: Lieve Boussauw
If I’ve counted correctly, the good brethren and sistren of Blowzabella – Andy Cutting, Jo Freya, Paul James, Gregory Jolivet, Dave Shepherd, Barnaby Stradling and Jon Swayne – play somewhere between 26 and 32 different instruments through the course of this gramophone record, charging between electric alto hurdy gurdy, bass clarinet, diatonic button accordeon, border bagpipes, alto sax, electric bass and, er, triangle. Small wonder they sound like nobody else… and in the course of their 40-year career, they never have done.
A wily old poke in the eye to Brexiteers everywhere, they simultaneously sound very English – especially when Jo Freya takes on a vocal like Adam Was A Poacher and Uttoxeter Souling Song – yet still, after all these years, rampagingly Euro… and often quite mad. Brass presents a hefty rhythm stomp, while hurdy gurdy, fiddle and accordeon weave patterns that whip you into some far distant parallel universe where you dance, you sing, you do somersaults among bluebells, you quaff magic ale and you smile until your ears fall off. It sounds like it is the music of some ancient tradition, yet it is fresh and alert also. There is virtuosity a-plenty in their instrumental interplay, musical banter and complex arrangements yet, even with the likes of Andy Cutting, Paul James and Gregory Jolivet aboard, the individual brilliance is still surpassed by the sum of the parts.
Here, on what must be something like their fourteenth album, their own song and tune writing gets a generous airing – with some radical adaptations along the way, such as the Lark Descending/Bushes & Briars variation assembled by Paul James in homage to Vaughan Williams; the sprightly Grenoside Processional Dance, created by Dave Shepherd’s dad Dick Shepherd in 1951; a bunch of polkas written by Jo Freya and a wild and wonderful tune by Paul James called Coteeto, which at times wanders into the realms of modern jazz.
The music is played with a broad smile and an uplifting spirit that will warm the cockles of your heart… and the heart of your cockles.
You heard a track on the Spring issue’s fRoots 68 compilation
MARIZA Mariza Warner Portugal 0190295639143
Easily the best part of this year’s Eurovision ‘Song’ Contest was the opening fado sequence, with Ana Moura followed by the great Mariza, her Barco Negro accompanied by a phalanx of percussionists. Portugal didn’t pull off the double this time – they were, after all, up against an Israeli chicken impressionist in a kimono – but oddly, this new album indicates that they might have seriously missed a trick with what they entered.
I hardly need remind some of you of the scorn previously heaped on producer/pianist Javier Limon in these pages, who has consistently managed to drag some of the world’s great women vocalists down into soulless MOR territory. So it’s more than a pleasure to report that this superbly constructed album doesn’t sound like any sort of previous Limon production I’ve encountered at all: indeed there’s barely the tinkle of a cocktail piano to be detected, and Mariza herself is singing from the heart, as only she can. That voice really is in best possible shape here.
Even more startling, the repertoire often strays reasonably widely from ‘traditional’ fado into a range of modern songs that would, frankly, have wiped the floor with anything heard on that annual TV marathon. They might not be classic fado or typical Mariza fare, but more mainstream tracks like Amor Perfeito or the jazz-inflected ballad Por Tanto Te Amar have ‘international hit’ written all over them.
Everything is perfectly anchored in a clear production with Mariza’s voice at the centre, with José Manuel Neto’s Portuguese guitar always strongly featured alongside guitarist Pedro Jóia, US-based Australian bassist Lucy Clifford, and inventive percussion from Israel ‘Piraña’ Suarez (on Verde Limão in particular). Credit where due: Limon has pulled off the trick of making a more broadly commercial album that long-term Mariza fado fans shouldn’t have any difficulty with at all.
I needn’t have left it in its shrink wrap on my desk for several days while I summoned up the courage to play it after all. Phew!
• mariza.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
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…
Spyrogyra St Radigunds (Talking Elephant TECD388)
The initial flowering of folk-rock produced some out-there bands but none more so than Spyrogyra, whose highly individual music satisfied many a bedsit consumer with its odd time signatures and ever changing settings. Named after the street in Canterbury where they lived, titles like Magical Mary or Cogwheel, Crutches & Cyanide, explain much. RIP main thinker Martin Cockerham who recently passed. talkingelephant.co.uk
Marisa Anderson Cloud Corner (Thrill Jockey Thrill 466)
West African, Tuareg and American folk-blues picking, mostly on electric guitar, infuse this atmospheric album, where Anderson’s technique never gets in the way of the instrumental tales she wants to tell. Excellent. thrilljockey.com
Catherine Bent Ideal (Catherine Bent 793447410920)
American conservatory jazz muso cellist takes on the Brazilian chorro tradition and wins. Charming, inventive and well on the right side of the predictable MOR that it could so easily have lapsed into. catherinebent.com
Dick Gaughan An Introduction To Dick Gaughan (Topic TICD010)
For almost 50 years, Dick Gaughan has been one of the best known voices in Scottish music: powerful, passionate, committed, at times vitriolic, but capable of great tenderness and sensitivity too. This Topic retrospective is a timely refresher, covering his early years up to 1981’s still stunning Handful Of Earth album. Willy O’Winsbury reminds us that when it comes to traditional ballads he is peerless as well. topicrecords.co.uk
If you follow the click through to Amazon from the links here and buy anything at their usual excellent prices, fRoots will receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you, and helps to support the resources on this web site.
There are lots more reviews in this month’s issue of fRoots. Subscribe!
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down