“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.” [ . . . ]
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.
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.
One Day’, the new album from Glasgow songwriter Robin Adams, proves to be a beguiling addition to his body of work.
It is certainly a marked contrast to his last album ‘The Beggar’, with a much warmer tone, albeit with a few lingering traces of melancholia.
‘A Friend of Mine’ opens the album beautifully with a charming ode to friendship which you could easily imagine sound tracking a Wes Anderson film. It’s followed by two heartfelt love songs, the tenderly romantic ‘Dancer In Your Eyes’, and ‘No Reason Why’, which has a childlike innocence to it. It may well be the album highlight and has an almost Beatles-esque melody.
A snippet of commentary from a nature documentary introduces ‘From A Dream’, a lament for the humble robin (the bird, not the songwriter) which somehow manages to sound both mournful and cheerful at the same time. “Can’t see the starlight/From the streetlight / Can’t tell the gutter from the stream / Can you tell the nightmare from the dream” sings Adams, contrasting pastoral and urban imagery. ‘Signs’ is probably the album’s most subdued and melancholic moment while ‘Market Convent Garden’ is a cover of a brilliant song by his father Chris Adams.
The Rheingans Sisters are one of the rising stars the English folk music scene. Rowan and Anna Rheingans are fiddlers and multi-instrumentalists. They play innovative original music grounded in English folklore as well as ancient fiddle traditions from Scandinavia and southern Europe.
Receiver is evocative, mesmerizing, experimental, bittersweet and hauntingly beautiful, incorporating familiar string sounds along with unexpected drones and ambience.