She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she was a bit like a cat herself, forever wandering in the woods, chasing after squirrels and rabbits as fast as her skinny legs could take her when the fancy struck, climbing trees like a possum, able to doze in the sun at a moment’s notice. And sometimes with no notice at all. — Lillian Kindred in
Oh that coffee that you’re smelling? It’s a bean from Java. We roast all our coffee here. It’s an extremely dark coffee blend with notes of bittersweet chocolate. Care for some? It just brewed up. I take mine with a dollop of cream we get from Oak Haven Estate, our neighbours just over the north ridge ten kilometres or so away.
And yes, those are are pumpkin cream cheese tarts and they have none of that obnoxious Halloween style spicing in them. They’re still just warm from our kitchen. So so have coffee and a tart while I finish off this edition.
First up is Clinton Heylin’s No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny in which I had forgotten that our reviewer Chris does reference that zombie biography: ‘In some ways it’s apposite that a book written about an artist as emotionally charged and mercurial as Sandy Denny should itself have had a difficult and rocky genesis. Some people, myself included, were expecting a biography of Sandy written by Pam Winters to be issued by Helter Skelter last year. It’s not my place as a reviewer to pass judgment on the disagreements which caused that project to flounder, and led to Clinton Heylin writing this book. Nevertheless, I include these comments to clarify the situation for those readers who do not know the background, why a biography did not appear last year, and why the author of this book, Clinton Heylin, is perhaps not the same author that they may have expected. It also helps explain the rather unusual comments in Clinton Heylin’s acknowledgments. Maybe one day that full story will unfold, but I shall keep my thoughts and comments on the book in hand. ‘
Fairport Unconventional was one of those astounding box sets Free Reed did. And Chris just also looking at this tasty treat: ‘As amazing as the music lovingly collected in this box set is, the one hundred and seventy page book is in its own way even better. Shaped to fit the box set as you can see by the photo of the box set, it’s a full history of the band as written by Schofeld who’s very obviously a diehard fan as he amusingly with an introduction entitled ‘Fairport Convention: A recipe for success’ which includes this choice tidbit: ’11 lead guitarists, 11 lead vocalists, 6 fiddle players, 7 drummers, 5 keyboard players, 2 bass players’ which makes the band not all that different than any band that’s lasted thirty-five years such as the Breton fest noz bands.’
Last Night’s Fub: In and Out of Time with Irish Music pleased Chuck who tells us what’s about: ‘Ciaran Carson is an Irish poet and musician, who has, in Last Night’s Fun, put together a series of writings, each inspired by a traditional tune. In most cases, these are short essays. For others, he has written poetry or put together sets of quotations. Occasionally the subjects in consecutive chapters are directly related, but that is most likely happenstance.’
Tommy James’s rise to fame was engineered by a New York Mobster who was the inspiration for a character on HBO’s The Sopranos, according to a book Gary reviewed: Me, The Mob And The Music. James co-wrote this autobiography, the story of how James rose from his beginnings in garage bands in Niles, Michigan, to a series of Top 20 hits from 1966 through 1969. ‘The book chronicles the way James cranked out hit after hit for Roulette and never saw a cent,’ Gary says.
Larry Kane’s Ticket to Ride is about a slightly better known (and paid) group, but who’s Larry Kane? ‘He was the only American journalist in The Beatles’ official press group on their groundbreaking 1964 U.S. tour,’ Gary says. ‘The tour changed the way rock ‘n’ roll concerts were played, it changed a lot of people’s minds about The Beatles, and it changed Larry Kane’s life.’
Scott Allen Nollen’s Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001 gets a superb look see by Kate: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’
Berlioz’s Evenings with the Orchestra came about as a result of him being neither a widely recognized composer in his lifetime, or being generally accepted at all during his lifetime, as Kelly notes in his splendid review: ‘In order to remain solvent, Berlioz often had to turn to penning articles of criticism and commentary on music and cultural matters for the Paris publications of the day. By all accounts, Berlioz hated this work and the necessity of it, which is ironic given the quality of his writing, as evidenced in Evenings with the Orchestra.’
Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span are two of my fave British folk rock(ish) bands, so it’s apt that Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as he helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’
I reviewed Mark Cunningham’s Horslips: Tall Tales, The Official Biography: ‘Horslips were, and in many ways still are, the Irish equivalent of Steeleye Span and, to a lesser extent, Fairport Convention, as they blend English and Irish traditional material and a rock and roll sensibility into what was the first Irish folk rock group.’ Did they get what they deserved? Oh yes.
Richard ends our English folk rock biographies by looking at Patrick Humphries’ Richard Thompson: The Biography: ‘Biographies of musicians are always dangerous propositions. Too many are tell-alls that insist on concentrating on lurid details and scandal, to the point where the reader forgets that the book is about a musician. Others go the other way, and are so slavishly and obviously creations of the PR machine that they’re essentially worthless as sources of fact. Books of both these sorts tend to cluster around hugely successful acts, and to clutter bookshelves right around holiday time.’ And let’s just say this this is decidedly not the biography this artist deserves.
Robert takes us in a different direction altogether, with a review of Allan Marett’s Songs, Dreamings, and Ghosts — The Wangga of North Australia: ‘First, a brief demurrer: “Ethnomusicology” can be a really scary idea, drawing together, as it does, the formal study of music and its forms, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and possibly a couple of “ologies” that I’ve overlooked, all discrete disciplines in Western thought and each by itself incapable of leading to any real understanding of cultures.’
David has the story of the Festival Express: ‘It opens with a faded map of north Ontario, Kapuskasing dead centre. Then the camera pulls back and from the middle of the screen comes a train — an old Canadian National engine — and tracks, lots of tracks. This is a movie about that train and the people who rode on it, and the places it stopped, and what happened one week in 1970 when this train went from Toronto to Calgary . . . with a cargo of rock’n’rollers and all their paraphernalia. What a summer.’
Our food review this time is actually a CD as Judith explains in her look at The Water of Life: ‘You would think that one album about booze would be enough for even a Scotsman, but not for singer-traditional songwriter Robin Laing. The Water of Life is Laing’s second, after The Angel’s Share, with songs on both CDs from his one-man show on whiskey. Laing, originally from Edinborough but now living in rural Lanarkshire, seems to have settled into a distillery groove. Great idea!’
Brendan reviewed a couple of Nordic discs, starting with one by Ale Möller. ‘Ale Möller’s The Horse and the Crane is a thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly entrancing set of music made for a theatre concert based upon a set of novels by Sara Lidman about the extension of the railway into Northern Sweden. Filled with the stark instrumentation and ethereal sounds that seem to pervade the best Swedish music, this suite really does feel like the perfect soundtrack to a railway tour through glaciers.’ For contrast, he reviews a disc from Myllärit. ‘…this Finnish seven-person ensembles offers danceability and joy on In the Light of the White Night, a fine selection of Finnish and Karelian folk tunes.’
Donna reviewed a CD by one of her favorite groups, Frifot’s Flyt. ‘On the continuum between folk and jazz that this group occupies, I would put this closer to the folk end. It’s actually quite mellow — and please don’t take that to mean it’s boring, because it’s definitely not. Lead vocalist Lena Willemark seems less inclined than usual to explore the higher registers of her always astounding vocal range. [Ale] Möller and the group’s third member, fiddle player Per Gudmundson, sing very harmonious backup vocals on a number of tracks, giving the songs a richer sound than I usually associate with this group.’
Gary was very pleased with an album by his favorite Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player. ‘Glødetrådar is exactly the kind of album that I look for from Nils Økland. It’s brimming with creativity and musical ideas, and it expertly combines ancient sounding folk melodies and dance rhythms with modern jazz and improvisation techniques. Add to that a team of players who listen deeply to each other and care only about contributing to the work at hand, and you have a moving and lasting work of art.’
The Finnish group Okra Playground’s new disc Itku was reviewed by Gary. ‘The three powerful singing women of Okra Playground draw largely on Finland’s centuries-old runo singing tradition, embellishing it with elements of electro dance music, pop, and rock to great effect. Not every track on this nine-track album is fully to my taste, but there’s plenty here for fans who enjoy various aspects of Finnish contemporary folk music.’
Gary has enjoyed the music of Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi, including the album Ambra. ‘On this album she duets with pianist Timo Alakotila, with whom she has worked and played for more than a decade, particularly in a contemporary music group called Aldargaz. It’s a delightful match, as the two take turns as soloist and accompanist. The tunes range from traditional polskas and marches, to minuets and polkas, some tango-influenced excursions, and some unadulterated bal musette.’
He also reviewed Ilmajousi / Luftstråk, by Maria Kalaniemi and Swedish fiddler Sven Ahlbäck. ‘It’s a remarkable synthesis of sounds, styles and genres. The duo plays nine traditional pieces, most of them arranged by Ahlbäck, and eight contemporary works, six by Ahlbäck, two by Kalaniemi.’
Another Finnish group Gary has reviewed is Aallotar, including their CD Ameriikan Laulu. ‘Finnish accordionist Teija Niku and Finnish-American fiddler Sara Pajunen, performing as Aallotar, continue to explore their shared musical and cultural histories on Ameriikan Laulu, their second collaboration following their 2014 debut In Transit. I’ve been hoping these two would renew their musical partnership, and this album satisfies my appetite for more from them.’
Jack Merry is the author of several omnibus reviews of Nordic music in the Green Man archives, including this one that covers groups known as Færd, Harv, Spælimenninir, and Bukkene Bruse. Of the album Tost by Harv, he says, ‘Is there a Norwegian influence here? Oh, yes! Christain Svensson joins them as a percussionist, as does guitarist Peter Stahlgren. Now, the key to figuring out Harv is to remember that they are very, very upbeat — no mournful dirges here! I like Garmarna and Gjallarhorn, but I’ll bet my last penny that these lads are more entertaining in concert. Certainly less depressing. The musicianship is simply outstanding and the recording is a delight to hear — I repeated it a half dozen times in the first week I had it.’
Judith had fun with a sampler of Finnish music called Arctic Paradise: Contemporary Finnish Folk Music 2001. ‘The CD has culled the best of “contemporary” Finnish folk music. Some artists, like Varttina and Wimme, are fairly well known, but others will be familiar only to Nordophiles. Interestingly, only five of the tracks are traditional music, the rest for the most part are composed in a traditional style and many are transposed and fused freely.’
Kim had high praise for the music emanating from a disc called Ahma, by Maria Kalaniemi and Aldargaz. ‘The album’s great arrangements are not surprising, as most of the musicians, like Kalaniemi, also hail from the Sibelius Academy Folk Music department. Aldergaz are Timo Alakotila on piano, Olli Varis on guitars, Tarpani Varis on double bass, Petri Hakala on mandolins and Arto Järveläla on violin. These folks have a flair for the dramatic and a great sense of the potential of a tune.’
Our What Not comes courtesy of Chuck who looks at an Irish song commonly known as ‘Johnny Cock’ or ‘Johnny O’Braidslea’: ‘One of the fascinating things about folk music is the variety that one song or tune can produce. Niggling purism aside, there has never been one folk style. That’s even more true these days with musicians fusing traditional folk to jazz, rock, Latin, and whatever other style they happen to like. So what I’m going to do in And Reels is to take a song or a tune and see how different performers, as well as different sources, treat it.’
As I’ve noted before, I’m fond of the not quite trad music out of the Nordic cultures that arose starting in the early Nineties. Garmarna was one such band. With the stellar Emma Härdelin as their vocalist, they were active for about a decade and then took a break until now, as they’re working on a new album. This cut is called “Vedergällningen” which is from a Chicago performance in 2002. Skoal!