Record review: Angeline Morrison “The Brown Girl and Other Folk Songs”

‘The Brown Girl’ is one of those rare records that feels perfectly weighted, entirely free of anything extraneous…the whole thing feels lighter than air.

By Thomas Blake

Folk music has a unique kind of liveliness that springs from its adaptability, pliability and ambiguity. No two interpretations of a traditional song are alike because no two performers share precisely the same experience. As a black singer working in a category of music largely associated with white voices, Angeline Morrison’s perspective is – due in part to historical marginalisation – particularly uncommon. Morrison is a vocal advocate for increased diversity in British folk music: later this year, she is due to release The Sorrow Songs: Folk Songs of Black British Experience, an attempt to redress the imbalance of history by writing black people’s stories back into the UK’s musical heritage. But first, we get to hear The Brown Girl and Other Folk Songs, Morrison’s more orthodox take on a collection of ten traditional songs.

Recorded in Cornwall, where the Birmingham-born Morrison has long been a resident, The Brown Girl is an intimate experience, musically minimal but full of warmth. A cappella opener, The Green Valley, is a beautiful introduction to her singing, which has a clarity and sweetness that belies the moral twists and ambiguities at play in the lyrics. Although this and most of the other songs here do not deal with explicitly black protagonists, lines like ‘Am I bound or am I free?’ take on deeper layers of meaning in Morrison’s rendition, proof of how vivid and mutable folk songs can be.

The multi-tracked vocals of Our Captain Cried have a bewitching and otherworldly quality and also serve to emphasise the song’s multiple perspectives, while the title track sees her joined by co-producer Nick Duffy (of the Lilac Time) on spidery acoustic guitar. It’s a combination that brings to mind Shirley Collins’ work with Davy Graham or, more recently, Stephanie Hladowski and C. Joynes’ album The Wild Wild Berry.

Morrison has dabbled in folk horror, 60s-style psych and hauntology in her Ambassadors Of Sorrow guise. This affinity with the more eldritch reaches of the British musical landscape is there in abundance on the spooked recorders of The Cruel Mother and the drones of When I Was A Young Girl. The Well Below The Valley revels in its dark themes of infanticide and incest: Morrison’s voice is eerily confiding, strangely present, insistent even at its quietest. The brutal violence of Lucy Wan is rendered with a soft immediacy that makes it all the more chilling. Morrison has stunning control over the emotional depths of these songs. Her musicianship is equally impressive – Idumea (an eighteenth-century hymn written by Charles Wesley) floats on a rippling gauze of dulcimer, and a brisk, autoharp-led run-through of Bonny Cuckoo is bright and blossomy.

The Brown Girl is one of those rare records that feels perfectly weighted, entirely free of anything extraneous. Every multi-tracked harmony or subtly plucked string has its place, and the whole thing feels lighter than air. That is a remarkable achievement, given the gravity of the subject matter in many of these songs, the layers of history they have accrued over time, and the wholly new perspective Morrison brings to them. By the time of the final, contented exhalation that puts a seal on the closing track, Must I Be Bound, it’s almost as if a satisfying but mysterious journey has been undertaken, one that will lead ultimately to many further destinations.

The Brown Girl and Other Folk Songs is out now.

Record review: Serious Sam Barrett’s “The Seeds of Love”

By David Pratt

Just prior to the first pandemic lockdown, in a local folk club very much given to promoting the traditional rather than contemporary, you could hear a conversation, admittedly one heard before at this venue, in which one of the participants bemoaned the fact that there were currently no young performers “truly keeping the tradition alive”.  Notwithstanding the plethora of other examples which could be given in evidence against this assertion, the protagonist had clearly not anticipated a recording from Serious Sam Barrett, who with his latest offering, The Seeds Of Love, a collection of traditional love songs of England and Scotland, has surely released what will be one of the traditional folk albums of the year.

Raised in Addingham, a Dales village, his ties and affinity with Yorkshire have clearly been evident in his work.  Initially performing in and around Leeds in 2004, the experiences and knowledge garnered from being brought up in the Yorkshire folk club scene and being exposed to what he describes as “the wonder I have felt listening to people sing traditional songs in a raw, warts and all style” have obviously seeped deep into his consciousness, and this is reflected in the respectful way he interprets and delivers the traditional songs on this album.

 

An appearance at SXSW in Austin, Texas, in 2010 followed the release of his debut album Close to Home in 2009, and after extensive touring in the US, together with the much-lauded 2019 release Where The White Roses, Sam’s stock and reputation have risen.  The Seeds Of Love was once again recorded at The Stationhouse in Leeds with producer/engineer James Atkinson, in between periods of Covid lockdown, and, judging by the quality of music inherent on the album, perhaps perversely, the enforced lack of gigging and touring may well have not only given him quality time and breathing space but also provided additional opportunities to enhance his writing skills. Continue reading

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.