The Electric Muse Revisited carves new paths through folk music

In 1975, the journalists Robert Shelton, Dave Laing, Karl Dallas and Robin Denselow wrote The Electric Muse, an examination of the folk revival and its subsequent electrification into folk rock. A companion double-LP stretched back to the Copper Family, Lead Belly and Margaret Barry. Both book and album were influential, which is to say that 1975 was not their time.

Folk music was a thing dying, its brief heyday filling sizeable concert halls rather than clubs and making forays into the charts now several years past. And yet, it was also a thing reborn. By the time an updated New Electric Muse was released in 1996 — this time as three CDs — there were enough new artists, from Eliza Carthy to Capercaillie, to bring the story up to date.

Now Denselow, sadly the sole survivor of the original quartet, has updated both book and album. This time the tracklist is new, although many of the performers recur and many of the songs from the original reappear with different performers. The four discs carve different paths through the territory. The first strikes sparks off the careers of the stars from the late 1960s: it opens with a home demo from Shirley Collins and Davy Graham, recorded in 1964, and includes an eerie field recording from her in 2020. Ashley Hutchings’s bands Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span and their offshoots are well represented, and a Sandy Denny section includes an as-yet-unreleased reading of “The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood” by Imagined Village.

Disc two sees folk reinfused by punk. Billy Bragg’s “Between The Wars” has worn better than his “England, Half English”; a Levellers rarity, “The Recruiting Sergeant”, recorded with the Copper Family, has the fury of The Pogues, while Edward II throw in some two-tone. As well as writing about folk music, Denselow was for many years a keen promoter of world music (and a storied foreign correspondent for Newsnight).

On the third and fourth discs, the biggest external influences are from Africa and Asia. Among other notable moments are Sheema Mukherjee’s sitar on “Cold Haily Rainy Night” and “My Son John”; Seckou Keita weaving kora around Catrin Finch’s harp lines on “Les Bras De Mer”; the Mongolian throat-singer Radik Tulush duetting with Carole Pegg; the Rajasthani band Dhun Dhora joining with Shooglenifty. Unreleased and ultra-rare tracks make this Electric Muse the most essential instalment yet. ★★★★★ ‘The Electric Muse Revisited’ is released by Good Deeds Music

Music Review: Teddy Thompson & Jenni Muldaur’s ‘Teddy & Jenni Do Porter & Dolly’

by Seuras Og

In times of trouble it is often to the sounds of comfort we retreat. We need those tunes of a bygone day that reflect happier times, especially if the songs are those of grief and heartbreak. Here we revisit the safe haven of country weepies, the duets of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, as performed by second generation music royalty, Teddy Thompson (son of Richard and Linda) and Jenni Muldaur (daughter of Geoff and Maria).

Teddy & Jenni Do Porter & Dolly is not markedly different in style than the recent trio of EPs by My Darling Clementine, beyond the age of the originals. The first of three announced tribute EPs by the duo, this one differs in that these are echoes rather than interpretations, and none the worse for that, if with a modern polish buffing up the 1960’s (and 70’s) productions.

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner made an astonishing thirteen collaborative duet records together, between 1967 and 1976. It is hard to imagine now, but at the start of their partnership Porter was the big star, Dolly the innocent ingenue. With a string of country hits to his name, the then styled Mr. Grand Ole Opry had a longstanding peak viewing TV show, where he first introduced Dolly to his viewers, her reception the trigger to a golden run of work together. One suspects that Porter, undoubtedly the boss, grew increasingly niggled by Dolly increasing parallel solo success, their split turning from eventual to inevitable. Wagoner became weary of hearing, in songs, nothing but descriptions of Dolly’s family & forbears and their struggles, feeling her love songs were more her forte. She left, he sued, the real stuff of a Nashville classic in itself. (But, lest anyone forget, his criticisms led her to go home and write both “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene,” over the course of a single evening.)

The impetus for T&JDP&D came from fabled musician David Mansfield’s lockdown streaming series The Fallout Shelter (available on YouTube amongst other platforms), with episode 15 bringing together the pairing of Teddy and Jenni. (Teddy’s dad had appeared, by the way, in episode 4.)

Teddy Thompson has had a long career under the radar, both as a singer/songwriter and a producer, tending more to the country side of styles, as opposed to the folkier directions of his parents. He’s released six solo records and one duet (with Kelly Jones); one of these, 2007’s Up Front and Down Low, was a a covers project, devoted to Nashville classics. Furthermore, in 2020, he made a five-song covers EP, Emergency Coverage, encompassing songs from the Zombies to Tina Turner. With an achingly mournful high tenor voice, and a tendency toward the downbeat in his own writing, he’s carved out his own place in the singer-songwriter firmament. Arguably and understandably, it has been difficult to escape the shadow of his father, and I suspect he would be better known if critics like me could avoid harking back to to his heredity. I would dearly love to see a Richard Thompson piece start off, “Richard Thompson, father of Teddy…”

Jenni Muldaur has had, perhaps, a lesser known career, at least in her own right. A backing singer first, starting off with Todd Rundgren’s band, ahead or working with artists as diverse as Donald Fagen and Dave Gahan, she has also a couple of solo recordings under her belt. She had also worked with Teddy and the wider Thompson family and thus, unsurprisingly, with the extended diaspora of the Wainwright/McGarrigle dynasty. With a pure timbre to her voice, it is an adaptable instrument that underlines her demands across numerous genres.

Thompson and Muldaur open their EP with “Just Someone I Used To Know,” a Cowboy Jack Clement song that George Jones took into the top five in 1962. The Porter/Dolly 1967 version is enshrouded in trumpets of a sort long and rightfully banished from popular music. Thankfully, David Mansfield’s production simply allows the vocals to bloom over a fairly minimal backing of clipped bass and drums, his own pedal steel filling in and around the largely harmony vocals, with only one line apiece going to each singer.

From there, Teddy and Jenni stride straight into “Once More.” There is a real Gram & Emmylou vibe here, the sort of rendition that first awakened this writer to the joys of country music, at a time (at least in the U.K.) when it was deemed a deeply suspicious and subversive style of music amongst my prog loving contemporaries. Again, whilst sounding vintage, this strips most of the cheese from the original, but leaving enough for the love to show through. Good dobro, too.

Side two, which joyously maintains the conceit that is carried also over into the retro sleeve, kicks off with “Put It Off Until Tomorrow.” Dolly co-wrote this one in her days as a jobbing songsmith, ahead of its appearance on her debut solo recording and the eventual version with Wagoner, and which has been since reprised with Kris Kristofferson amongst others. Unsurprisingly, that makes this more a showcase for Muldaur, who handles this with a capable grace, and should have folk pricking up their ears as to the worth of exploring her back catalog. Plus, at the risk of sacrilege, she removes nearly all of the wobble from Dolly’s rendition, the aspect of Dolly that divides her from a more universal acclaim (and that can, indeed, on occasion, be heavy going.)

Appropriately enough, set closer “Just Between You and Me” offers Thompson a greater opportunity to stretch his own voice, away from the harmonizing, the song trading lines between them. Like all the songs, it is short, well under the three minute mark, but this is the first of these covers that begs for an extended work-out.

Maybe that’s how part one of anything should leave you. I look forward to the next, hoping the simple marriage of weeping vocals and wailing steel is left as unadorned as here. Judging by a run of forthcoming live shows, it looks as if the further volumes will pay tribute to two other classic country duet pairings. So keep an ear our for Teddy and Jenni doing George and Tammy, or maybe Loretta & Conway.

Source: Review: Teddy Thompson & Jenni Muldaur’s ‘Teddy & Jenni Do Porter & Dolly’ – Cover Me

Gang of Four changed the way punk sounded and what it could say. A new box set reveals the peak of their power.

“We didn’t sound like anybody else,” says singer Jon King. A new box set finds the band’s earliest albums have kept their original thrills.

Millions out of work and businesses shuttered. A crushing sense of poverty and alienation in the populace, leading to openly fascist groups marching in the streets and Marxist radicalization fomenting in the universities. The government teetering on the verge of a national emergency, with more details of the ultraright plotting a coup d’etat emerging every day. Yes, 1970s Leeds felt as if it were on the brink of social collapse.

“We were on the verge of civil war,” Jon King remembers of the era from his home in Camden Town. “You had this great split between progressive forces trying to accommodate different people in a way that respected each other. But by doing that, privileged people were going to lose something or other, whether material or psychological.” [ . . . ]

Continue at WASHINGTON POST: Gang of Four changed the way punk sounded and what it could say. A new box set reveals the peak of their power.

Review: Anna B Savage “A Common Turn”

Words: Jamie Wilde

Michelle Obama once said that to “dare to be vulnerable” is to break down barriers and show others who you really are. With Anna B Savage, this quote can be applied explicitly throughout her tenderly captivating and embracingly vulnerable debut album ‘A Common Turn’.

Savage first came to the fore with ‘EP’ in 2015 which led to a tour across Europe with Father John Misty. However, the unexpected success of this release had serious consequences for Savage as she struggled with feelings of imposter syndrome and at her lowest, questioned whether she could continue writing music any longer.

Over the last five years, Savage has built things up from the ground again to rekindle her passion for music and for herself. “I started to like myself again,” she explains in a press release, and ‘A Common Turn’ openly explores this vulnerable five-year period with authenticity and poise. The overarching theme of birds poetically binds her myriad of experiences together, revealing highs and lows, arduous journeys but also bright, joy enriching colours – just like birds.

‘Corncrakes’ channels Laura Marling style acoustic guitars with Savage’s melancholic lament on her experiences with self-doubt: “I don’t know if this is even real / I don’t feel things as keenly as I used to.” The most impressively produced track on the album ‘Dead Pursuits’ carries this theme of self-doubt to Savage’s own creative process as an artist. Dynamics are then utilised intuitively in ‘Baby Grand’ to convey a motif based around a relationship – its accompanying music video allows for an even more poignant experience.

Savage fuses her classical upbringing with electronic elements in the boldly experimental track ‘Two’ before ‘A Common Tern’ – which also boasts an impressive accompanying video – marks one of the most important moments of the album. It explores Savage escaping toxicity, both with her partner and the toxic relationship she’d built with herself, which coincides with a sighting of the titular common tern that offered a form of grace and freedom from her struggle.

Internal experiences with sexual pleasure are recounted in vivid detail in ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’. The album’s final two tracks ‘Hotel’ and ‘One’ allow William Doyle’s production inputs to come to the fore, rounding off proceedings with nods to Phoebe Bridgers and Anna Calvi.

This is a gem of an album. Personal, honest and highly emotive, it tackles big questions; but most of all, it dares to be vulnerable. ‘A Common Turn’ is undoubtedly one of the most notable releases of 2021 so far, marking a very impressive and well-earned return to music for Anna B Savage.

 

Source: Anna B Savage – A Common Turn

Record Review: Jon Wilks “Up the Cut”

By Billy Rough

With something of the spirit of Nic Jones, and dare I say it even a smidgeon of Johnny Flynn in there, Jon Wilks new album Up The Cut is a refreshingly stripped-back and intimate affair.

As a researcher and performer of folk songs, especially those of his native Black Country, Jon Wilks has a keen eye for history and Up The Cut is a fine selection of traditional folk songs, all from the collection of Child and Roud. Several of the songs, ‘unheard in 180 years’, come from Birmingham and the Midlands and provide a fascinating introduction to the rich musical legacy of the area along with, as all good folks songs do, a telling insight into the lives and loves of the time.

Up The Cut is Wilks second release of such material following his debut Midlife in late 2018. In contrast to the larger sound of Midlife though, here is a much snugger and more immediate album. No keyboards here, only Wilks and his guitar. And effective it is too.

Wilks’ confidence as a tunesmith is well demonstrated throughout. ‘Pretty Girls of Brummagem’ came to Wilks from the notes of Roy Palmer, but no tune existed. For the track, Wilks creates a sweet little tune, which feels thoroughly authentic. The lyrics too provide valuable historic insight into the Birmingham of the 1830s, with tales of the dandy ‘up New Street he struts so gay, smokes his Havannah on the way’ alongside other characters such as the chimney sweep, the shopman and the ‘old gentlemen of sixty-four’.

The Stowaway’ is hard to resist. It’s an old music hall song, but Wilks’ guitar plays loose with its the mawkish elements of the song and provides it with a simple, yet melancholic attraction.

John Riley’ is a beautiful track. Wilks version comes from Palmer’s recording of Staffordshire singer George Dunn back in 1971. In his notes, Wilks says he’d love to hear a great singer tackle this song; they’ll have some way to go to better Wilks’ version, however.

The Jovial Hunter of Bromsgrove’ has an echo of the Halliards for me, with Wilks’ pleasing guitar reminiscent of the nimble finger work of Nic Jones. Probably more familiar as ‘Bold Sir Rylas’ the song has quite a legacy, yet Wilks provide a refreshing new interpretation.

How Five And Twenty Shillings Were Expended In A Week’ almost tells you all you need to know about the song in its title. Brummie words are a joy here, with talk of a ‘bonny cock of wax’, ‘swipes’, and ‘strings’. None of these meaning what you initially think they do! For illumination, you’ll need to buy the album! ‘The Lover’s Ghost’ on the other hand is a fetching bit of folklore, a lament dripping in mood and foreboding. It’s a dark song with a strikingly haunting melody.

The album is filled with songs of work, class, joy, and pain, hopes, dreams and fears. They are universal songs with the timeless concerns of us all. The unused subtitle to the release “hawkers and ballad singers – sworn foes to dull sobriety and care’ (title for the third album there I say Jon!) taken from a comment by the poet George Davis in 1790, gives an idea of the history at play here. Wilks’ sleeve notes on each song’s background and the Birmingham of the 18th and early 19th centuries is extensive, with some nice personal comments on how he worked on each song too. Eight of the ten songs on the album came to Wilks via the research of Roy Palmer and there is certainly an echo of Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd here too.

Up The Cut is a beautiful album. Affecting, simple guitar, exquisitely accompanied by Wilks’ authentic, honest voice. A raw, but entirely seductive, performance. One for all lovers of traditional songs delivered with minimal frills. More please Jon! Up The Cut is released on 12 February 2021.