Friday, 22 March 2013

CD Review - Annlaug

Toras Dans

(distributed by Proper Music; released 1st April 2013)

Review by Carys for FolkCast

The prospect of reviewing this Norwegian album was an exciting one for me. It's a fairly open secret that I have a passion for Scandinavian music, and as I have a basic understanding of Swedish (Scandinavian languages have a lot of similarities) I was looking forward to seeing how much of this I understood. 

Also, there's something about fiddle music from the North that mentally transports me to a lakeside in the middle of summer, which is a delicious prospect on a cold March day. So I eagerly anticipated hearing the work of Annlaug Børsheim and Rannveig Djønne, both from Hardanger in Norway. 

Sadly though, I did not warm to this album on a first listen. Indeed, for almost a week I wasn't even sure there was going to be a second listen, because my first impression was that it was somewhat dull, a lot of the tunes sounded the same, and despite Annlaug's wonderful voice I expected it to be a trial to listen to again. Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the songs here, but I couldn't help thinking that a little Hardanger music went long way. 

A few days ago, I decided to play it again, and this time I discovered this album is the kind that grows on you, rather than leaps out instantly and screams “love me!” 

After hearing it several times I can happily listen to this and realise that the songs are very different from each other indeed – there's just a degree of subtlety here that is easy to miss if you're not already attuned to it. 

Indeed, I found myself mentally comparing Hardanger music to their textiles – something that appears deceptively simple but with hidden complexity once you look a little closer. 

The album begins with “Dans”, a song about... well, dancing. The rolled r's on here are absolutely gorgeous, drifting over the guitar, fiddle and accordeon tune which gradually gets more insistent until an almost frantic climax that drifts quietly off across that lake I mentioned earlier. However, the overall feel of this album is relaxed and gentle, with tracks that float comfortably into each other - ideal background music for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

“Besse Vikingson”, a lovely, Celtic-inspired tune named after a man who lived in Hardanger in the 14th century, is slightly more uptempo than some of the other tracks, and “Da Lounge Bar” is a great song written, according to the sleeve notes, after the Lounge Bar in Lerwick in Shetland where Annlaug enjoyed many sessions with local musicians. 

Isn't it strange what a name can do, though? To me, this feels like an unnecessary anglicised title, conjuring up images of sleazy men in overly-shiny trousers with slicked back hair who refer to total strangers as '”darlin'” while a bored DJ plays the same six 80's tracks over and over again. Which is a shame, because this is one of my favourite tracks, the one that make me think of wide open spaces and that moment in a hot summer afternoon where all you feel like doing is lying back and letting the fiddles and accordions wash over you.

Which brings me to the title track, Toras Dans, a bouncy, jazz-tinged song that skips along nicely.  A fitting description for a song written for Annlaug's five-year old niece and one that makes me wish I understood more of the lyrics than the odd phrase here and there. 

Give this album a go - and give it time to seep quietly into your senses!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Outside Track tour UK in April 2013

International folk band The Outside Track is heading to the UK in April.

Described as "A stunning synthesis of virtuosity and energy", The Outside Track's marriage of Irish, Scottish and Canadian music, song and dance has been rapturously received around the world. 

Hailing from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and Vancouver, its five members are united by a love of traditional music and a commitment to creating new music on its foundation. Using fiddle, accordion, harp, guitar, flute, step-dance and vocals these five virtuosos blend boundless energy with unmistakable joie de vivre.

The line up comprises Norah Rendell (Canadian Traditional Singer of the Year nominee), Mairi Rankin (Beolach), Ailie Robertson (Live Ireland Winner, BBC Young Trad Finalist), Fiona Black (BBC Fame Academy Winner), and Cillian O'Dalaigh.

The band have enjoyed 5 years of extensive touring in the UK, Europe, Canada and the USA, including appearances at Celtic Connections, Celtic Colours, Goderich, Mission, Memoire et Racines, Sidmouth, and Whitby Festivals. 

Tour dates:

Sunday, 3 March 2013

CD Review - Heidi Talbot

Angels Without Wings

Review by Carys for

Thirty seconds into the the opening track of Heidi Talbot's “Angels Without Wings” from her new album by the same name, I was already kicking myself for missing her set at Butlins' Great British Folk Festival last December. This is without a doubt one of the jolliest album openers I've heard for a while, and one of the best, too.

“Angels Without Wings” boasts a lovely swing rhythm and arrangements reminiscent of a Parisian cafe on a summer afternoon, with a slight undertone of melancholy that only adds to the enjoyment. Heidi's diction is spot-on and by the third listening I found myself joining in without even realising I already knew the words:
“I'll watch over you, it's what I was born to do
Perhaps you will love me too, Angels without wings”

Heidi Talbot paints pictures with her songs that are subtle and yet beautifully detailed, switching between joy and sorrow whilst creating a tapestry of songs that complement each other perfectly. It's not surprising to learn her album features collaborations with (amongst others) Mark Knopfler, King Creosote, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Karine Polwart and Julie Fowlis.

Twice on this album I found tears welling up in my eyes, firstly during “The Loneliest”, a duet with Louis Abbott of Admiral Fallow, which is easily the most beautiful love song I've heard for at least a year. This lovely, slow ballad is immediately followed by “New Cajun Waltz” which is more uptempo without spoiling the dreamy mood of its predecessor.

The second song which grabbed my emotions is “Will I Ever Get To Sleep” which truly is a picture painted in words. The confused old man, the mouse under the bed, the wakeful baby, the neighbour talking to herself... we sense she is just this side of madness until 'he' comes home and makes everything alright and she finally falls asleep and is dreaming. With just the tiniest sections of brass and a syncopated rhythm that brighten the melody in just the right places, this a near-perfect song for me.

That isn't to say this is a perfect album, and there are tracks which don't quite hit the spot for me. “When The Roses Come Again”, despite featuring Mark Knopfler on guitar, feels rather like twenty other average 'Americana' tracks that are fairly forgettable; (it also suffers from “the curse of track eight” - a bizarre phenomenon, probably unique to this reviewer, whereby the track I like least turns out to be the eighth one on an album at least seventy percent of the time!) and “Button Up” falls in to the 'pleasant' rather than the 'memorable' category. But if 'pleasant' is the least positive thing I can find to say about a song, this lady is obviously doing a lot of things right!

As I write, I am not at all surprised to note that Angels Without Wings has reached no.26 in the official album charts and no. 11 in the indie charts. Heidi Talbot deserves all the recognition she gets, and next time I see her on a festival bill you can be sure I'll be in the front row to see her!