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Alexa Rose – Medicine for Living Reviewed by Jon Hutchinson for TME.fm Radio

 

There is fascination in vulnerability, we are beguiled by a stranger who chooses to share their emotions and history, their short story relationships that turned out to be sometimes painful yet deficient chapters in a novel none of us ever seem to finish. We can be beguiled by the stranger who can create beauty from what seems broken.

Alexa Rose takes a paintbrush from her soul and draws broad strokes across yours. Born in the Alleghany Highlands of West Virginia, there is craft and history here, an awareness of those that went before her, rooted in the traditions of folk and storytelling. Alexa holds these values close and sews together fine threads of quiet mastery and confident clarity, adding her own personality to create a unique style. Alexa holds onto the words as she sings them, not wanting to let them go, wringing all the lasting meaning from them, each one a precious piece of endeavour. Frazey Ford is one of the very few others who can do this so well and to such effect.

The subtlety of the musical arrangements throughout this album is something that you immediately notice, it’s not intrusive, it’s not the centre, not what the song is about, it’s a canvas upon which an artist adds the foreground. The opening song, “Borrow your heart”, shows the promise of what is to come, “Can I borrow your heart, I think I lost my own”, the line is so simple, but hides deeper currents of unresolved thoughts. The thing about Rose is that her lyrics throughout the album can seem contradictory, there is a conflict of thoughts which becomes fascinating. There are times when she writes with such feelings of weakness, confronted with the enormity of love that has taken so much of her but is ultimately fruitless, yet other times when realism and optimism is embraced.

The title track “Medicine for living” is at once haunting and torn, “Can I ask you a question, I know you don’t want to hear, but I’m the heirloom at the mercy of the auctioneer, There’s a crack in the finish, but it’s easy to miss, Are you going to love me when it ain’t like this”. It’s the throes of a relationship that is failing, with all its inevitability and feelings of powerlessness.
“That’s the way love is”. This ballad with its minimalist backing leaves Rose’s voice exposed in all its complexity and range and once again the lyrical quality leaves you in no doubt that this is an artist with depth. The song is a search into perpetual disappointment mixed with eternal optimism.

This is such a promising work, a debut album which deserves all the attention it will no doubt receive, we await more, and what a time we have in store watching Alexa Rose develop her music.

© Jon Hutchinson 2019

 

New from The Levins – “Caravan of Dawn”

THE LEVINS: HARMONY-DRIVEN CONTEMPORARY FOLK

The Levins (pronounced LeVINNs) are a NY-based, nationally touring acoustic duo known for sunsplashed, peace-filled music that connects on a universal level with lighthearted depth. This selfproduced NEW RELEASE (4/26/19) “CARAVAN OF DAWN” goes deeper by taking an aerial view of life’s ability to break the chains of darkness and light, to explore the sorrow inside joy and joy inside sorrow. Guitar (Ira Levin) and piano (Julia Bordenaro Levin), along with unique harmonies & tightly blended unison vocals, reflect the married couple’s own compatible musical & personal relationship. They closed 2018 with an original full-scale San Francisco musical theater/EuroCircus production based on their 2013 release, “My Friend Hafiz” and they’re looking forward to where this new collection will lead them.

“Caravan Of Dawn is a powerful distillation of the duo’s artistic forays, bringing together its varied musical and sonic explorations into a signature aesthetic. Adding to the album’s potency is The Levins’ careful album sequencing, offering the listener a smoothly curated experience, brimming with elegant touches of cello, lush soundscapes, passages with trumpets, and tasteful electric guitar textures. Together, the songs on Caravan Of Dawn orbit around transformative messages of healing. Ira shares,“These days people seem so divided and polarized—many people seek safety in bubbles. We want to offer people hope and a place to connect.” Julia concludes, “We hope the album reaches people through its openness and honesty, and that it helps people to move forward and not feel so alone.”

 

PRAISE FOR THE LEVINS…

“The Levins music…a much needed remedy for a hurried and
harried world. They serve to remind us of the old adage that says music and poetry can indeed be a soothing balm for troubled times.”
– Lee Zimmerman, No Depression

“The Levins tap into musical inspiration that is both inspiring and inspired. They seek to create a musical harmony meant to raise listeners to a higher plane. Caravan of Dawn is a gorgeous work!”
– Joltin Joe Pszonek, Radio Nowhere

“The Levins have scored another “win” with the release of “Caravan of Dawn.” Their trademark harmonies have never sounded better and the collection of uplifting songs serve up the perfect tonic for whatever ails we might be facing. Uplifting, inspiring and loving – their latest CD is a stunning production that gives us a chance to pause and celebrate the joys of life. A most welcome recording!”
– Ron Olesko, WFDU

“The open hearted songs of The Levins feed my soul. What the
world needs now more than ever is the poetry, spirituality, and humanity of their upliftng musicality.”
– John Platt, WFUV, NYC

Hannah Read – Way Out I’ll Wander

Thanks to FRUK.

Often folk singers will perform with a certain place in mind. No other genre is quite so aware of its geographical heritage. A regional accent, a political stance, a particular choice of instrument or a way of describing a landscape: all of these can signify, with varying degrees of subtlety, a sense of location or sometimes dislocation. But there are other, equally valid, subjects for artists to tackle, and one of these is what we might call the human condition, or more specifically the nuance of human interpersonal relationship. With quiet but noteworthy ambition, the latest album by Hannah Read, her second, attempts to reconcile both of these strands. While this may not be unique, Read’s methods are all her own, and the results are fascinating.

Read is Scottish, but lives and works in the United States. Way Out I’ll Wander was recorded in two separate winter sessions, a year apart, in New Hampshire and upstate New York. And as I have suggested, location is important. The rural, mountainous areas where Read worked provide a link, perhaps a subconscious link, to the landscapes of her homeland. This allows her to perform in a way that recalls the musical heritage of both of her homes, and that acknowledges the shared aspects of that heritage as well as its differences. And just as importantly, it allows her to approach lyrical subjects of her songs – people and relationships she has known, shared pasts – with enough distance to make for clear-eyed, objective portraits, painted with affection and skill.

With that in mind, the opening track, Moorland Bare, is something of an outlier in that its lyrics are not Read’s own but are taken from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson was another Scot who spent some time in upstate New York, and for whom the idea of home was powerful and complex. Moreland Bare, then, makes a natural and excellent scene-setter, with its darkly romantic recollections of the Scottish heaths. But more than that, it is a stunningly performed piece that instantly showcases Read’s ability to command the terrain of a song. The gentle but bittersweet strum of acoustic guitar carries a voice that is remarkably clear but full of transatlantic ghosts: there are echoes of both her adopted homeland and her place of birth in every phrase. Amongst other things, it is an apposite reminder of the borderlessness of art.

 

It is followed by the first of the detailed character sketches which are to become a trademark of the album. Ringleader shows Read at her darkest and most ambiguous. Its message is potent but enigmatic, revolving around the idea that the worst human behaviour is entrenched through generations, feeds off weakness, and is incredibly difficult to change. As if to let the gravity of this song sink in, Read follows it up with a short instrumental interlude led by her unhurried, melancholy fiddle, and owing as much to modern chamber music, jazz or film scores as to folk. Indeed, an important feature of the whole record is a tactful use of a wide range of instruments: Read’s fiddle and guitar (along with the guitar work of Jefferson Hamer) is brilliantly underpinned by the upright bass of Jeff Picker. This makes up the album’s musical core, but there are various other flourishes throughout – woodwind, saxophone, lap steel, piano – which are knitted together wonderfully by co-producer and engineer Charlie Van Kirk.

I’ll Still Sing Your Praises is one of the most personal, most powerful and rawest songs here. To a minimal musical backdrop, Read sings with fondness, resignation and sadness of the end of a relationship set against the opposed territories of city and countryside. The song’s final line ‘You’re no longer the one that I call home’, is a microcosm of the album’s theme of belonging, and how the deeply human need to belong with another human is entwined with the more abstract idea of belonging in a certain place.

 

Alexander is another of the ‘character’ songs, though this one is much fonder. Here, a softly distorted electric guitar gives the song a welcome warmth, while the chorus – simply the name ‘Alexander’ sung like a charm – is open-ended and generous-hearted, a reminder that simply speaking a person’s name can be an act of kindness. She Took A Gamble rests on a cat’s cradle of intertwined guitars and an innovative vocal performance that, in terms of melody at least, recalls early Joni Mitchell. Lyrically, Read focuses on small but important details that anchor the song in a time and place – hermit crabs in the sucking tide, ropes clinging to stones – before zooming out to view the wider picture of interconnected lives and difficult decisions.

 

This juxtaposition of fine details and grander, more universal ideas is a technique that can yield heartbreaking results. The album’s title track is a case in point. After a graceful fiddle intro, Read sets the scene with needle-sharp descriptions of cold air and snow on fallen trees, before the sadness at the song’s heart hits her – and the listener – in a slow wintry sweep, and a heavy freight of grief is lightly but devastatingly revealed. And it works with the happier songs too. Boots describes the unknowable point in a relationship when things change, in this case for the better. But once again it is in the minutiae the song’s power builds: the clothes on the floor, light falling on a cheekbone. Before you realise it you are caught in the small, perfectly formed world of the song’s narrative.

 

Final track Campsea Ashe (presumably the name refers to the Suffolk village) is perhaps as close as Read gets to straight Americana – and maybe its position on the album is a nod to the direction (musical or geographical) in which she is moving. But there is more to it than that: here the lyrics deal as much with time as with place, hinting at yet another dimension to the already enviable talent on show in Read’s songwriting. Way Out I’ll Wander is a fine achievement: listening to each of its songs is like watching the snow settle in an exquisitely crafted snow globe, revealing an image of pristine clarity.

 

Hannah will tour the UK in April supporting Kris Drever, see dates below.

Hannah Read Tour Dates

APR 12 | Brewery Arts Center
KENDAL, UK

APR 13 | Leeds College of Music
LEEDS, UK

APR 14 | The Met
BURY, UK

APR 15 | Memorial Hall
SHEFFIELD, UK

APR 16 | Nettlebed Folk Club
HENLEY-ON-THAMES, UK

APR 17 | St David’s Hall
CARDIFF, UK

APR 19 | Colchester Arts Center
COLCHESTER, UK

APR 20 | Union Chapel
LONDON, UK

APR 21 | Wem Town Hall
SHREWSBURY, UK

APR 22 | The David Hall
SOUTH PETHERTON, UK

APR 23 | Guildhall Theater
DERBY, UK

APR 24 | Philharmonic Town Hall Music Room
LIVERPOOL, UK

APR 26 | Eastgate Theater
PEEBLES, UK

APR 27 | The Barn
BANCHORY, UK

APR 28 | Town Hall
MILNGAVIE, UK

MAY 5 | The Sage
GATESHEAD, UK

MAY 6 | Eden Court
INVERNESS, UK

MAY 8 | Aros Community Center
PORTREE, UK

http://www.hannahread.com/

Alana Henderson New Single Out, Let This Remain

New folk-laden single from Hozier’s long-time cellist available now

 

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In addition to the beautiful instrumentation, Henderson boasts an incredible, lush songwriting talent characteristic of many Irish folk artists. Her vocals are arresting and her bohemian sound haunting. The cello is inventive and subtle, a lilting undercurrent behind soft electronics.(Earmilk)

Alana Henderson is a cellist and singer-songwriter from Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland.  Her self-released Wax and WaneEP (2014) drew solid comparisons to Joanna Newsome and Fiona Apple. Shortly thereafter she stepped up to accompany Hozier on cello and supporting vocals. Between 2014-2015 she played over 300 headline shows with Hozier’s band, including notable performances at Glastonbury, Saturday Night Live, Jools Holland and the Grammy’s with Annie Lennox. Her new single, “Let This Remain,” is an icy and unforgiving anti-ballad, fusing an electronic undercurrent to her darkly organic indie-folk.

Alana’s mastery of the cello is a highlight of the track, showcasing her dynamic techniques that are looped and overlapped to create a dramatic atmosphere; expertly balancing an arrangement that is both haunting and beautiful.  Written in L.A. near the end of that massive tour, the lyrics reflect on the transient nature of relationships on the road and the emotional detachment that ensues.  When no relationship is expected to last, she jabs, “you could be the one I don’t regret…yet.”

 

“After a period of post-tour decompression it was recorded at a friend’s isolated Irish cottage with the help of Belfast-based musician/producer Alan Haslam and using only the most rudimentary equipment; my cello, a Roland Juno-106 synthesiser and a TR-808 drum machine, along with some improvised acoustic percussion (we snapped a pair of shoe trees together for the snare sound).”

L I S T E N

Alana Henderson – Let This Remain

https://soundcloud.com/alanahenderson/let-this-remain

D I S C O V E R

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/alanahenderson
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alanahendersoncello/
Website: https://www.alanahenderson.com/
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6P6SqdQjXIzTWKj5QBWliY

Ben Clover – The Emigrant


In a highly-charged political climate in which immigration is the hot topic all over the world, Ben Glover’s new album The Emigrant could hardly be better timed.
The singer-songwriter was born and brought up in rural County Antrim, but has plied his trade in Nashville, Tennessee since 2009, so is no stranger to dislocation. He has compiled a collection of ten songs – four original, and six gathered from elsewhere – addressing this universal theme from every angle.
Glover begins with a brooding, minor rendition of the well-known traditional song The Parting Glass, featuring some fine fiddle playing from Eamon McLoughlin. This leads into two superb original songs. A Song of Home, co-written by Tony Kerr, is a rose-tinted look back at a far-off homeland. This is followed by the title track, which Glover wrote with legendary Nashville songwriter Gretchen Peters.
A beautiful look at the struggles of an emigrant which is seemingly inspired in equal parts by Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, and the twin folk cultures of Glover’s two homes, The Emigrant is a brilliant showcase for Glover’s textured and emotional voice and the instrumental talents of his band. Also of note is the more upbeat Heart in My Hand, which takes a more positive and yet still distinctly pensive view of moving across the sea.
The songs borrowed from other places are of equal merit. Ralph McTell’s From Clare to Here is reproduced in a deeply melancholy and reminiscent mood very faithful to the original, while a mournful rendition of Eric Bogle’s legendary anti-war song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda could bring a tear to the hardiest eye.
The Emigrant concludes with a traditional song from Glover’s homeland, The Green Glens of Antrim. This touching ode to his distant home is a fitting end to a wonderful album. Combining his deeply personal experiences with an issue so immediately relevant to us all has produced an emotional and intensely thought-provoking masterpiece.

Aoife O’Donovan In the Magic Hour

The twin powers of the road and memory are powerful, beguiling forces for singer/songwriters. Aoife O’Donovan is no exception. In the Magic Hour is her sophomore album. Written mostly during a solitary respite from traveling, its intimate songs are haunted by the emotional resonance of memory. The life and passage of her 93-year-old grandfather and her childhood visits to his Clonakilty seaside village in Ireland loom large over these recordings. Re-teaming with producer Tucker Martine, the pair built these tunes from the barest of essentials — usually just her voice and a guitar — before a studio band and carefully woven contributions of collaborators (including Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, Chris Thile, Brooklyn Rider, Rob Burger, Eyvind Kang, and Tony Furtado) were added. Employing standard folk-rock instrumentation, the words in “Stanley Park” could be a closing song rather than an album opener: “…If I could take my rest/Back in the belly from where I came/nobody knows my name…” Burger‘s piano highlights the lilting melody on the horizon of her poignant lyrics but never gets maudlin. The title track is brighter, framed in an arrangement that approaches Baroque pop. Pump organ, Wurlitzer, Watkins‘ fiddle, crisp snare, and reverbed electric guitars bump under O’Donovan‘s in the rear view lyrics. “Donal Óg” commences with long, modal, droning electric guitars, its undercurrent of Celtic melody is sad and wistful in a narrative that’s equally painful and affirmative. The voice of her grandfather wafts in from the margins in its closing moments, underscoring its poignancy. Gabriel Kahane arranges the strings for Brooklyn Rider on “The King of All Birds,” a minor-key, acoustic-electric rocker with winds and brass patched into its final frames to add texture and harmonic imagination. Furtado‘s banjo, Watkins‘, fiddle, and Laura Veirs‘ backing vocal adorn the shimmering, heartbroken waltz “Not the Leaving.” It’s answered by “Detour Sign,” in which O’Donovan‘s protagonist blows up a relationship, deciding love is not enough in facing of her life challenges. Amid the meld of guitars, the Wurlitzer erects the tune’s spine; it buoys the words — which admit regret even as they decide a course of action — as well as the rest of the instrumentation. Closer “Jupiter” contains words that almost contradict it. Amid bittersweet memory, temporal displacement, and the tension of greeting an uncertain future, the protagonist concludes in the resolve that love triumphs. The vanguard folk-cum-art song music is bracing, led by the strings of Brooklyn Rider. In the Magic Hour lives up to its title. O’Donovan‘s sometimes searing, always poetically rendered lyrics are matched by astute, economically articulated melodies. These songs leave listeners with the impression that they actively chose to grant emotions and memory places as proper collaborators here. O’Donovan seems certain that as she allows them voice, the trails they carve in the heart become as priceless as what they teach.

Doolin by Doolin

Irish music with a French touch!


Produced by John Doyle and featuring special guests Taron Benson, Alison Brown, Ashley Davis, Jerry Douglas, John Doyle, Kenny Malone, Michael McGoldrick and Mary Shannon.

Doolin’ is France’s premiere Celtic band and their self-titled debut for Compass Records is one of the freshest and most exciting Celtic records of the year. Natives of Toulouse, Doolin’ worked with legendary Irish guitarist John Doyle in the producer’s chair to achieve a sound uniquely their own—deeply rooted in traditional Celtic music but wonderfully flavored with French chanson, American roots music and even hip hop straight from the streets of Paris. The band traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to record the album and worked in the legacy studio now owned by Compass Records where the Outlaw Movement in country music took root in the late 1960s. The resulting experience infused DOOLIN’ with an infectious energy. The musical essence of the band is captured on the fiery “The Road to Gleanntan”, the gorgeous reflective character of “Le Dernier Kouign Amann”, the beautifully rendered Jacques Brel classic “Amsterdam”, with its evocative strains of accordion and French lyric, and culminates with the bold integration of rap and John Doyle’s percussive guitar style on Sinéad O’Connor’s “Famine”. Collaborations with special guests Jerry Douglas (Dobro), John Doyle (guitar, bouzouki), Alison Brown (banjo), and Kenny Malone (percussion) brought stellar results on stand out tracks that include a reworking of the Steve Earle classic “Galway Girl” and Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown”.

“They’re an all-French band who play Irish traditional music brilliantly.”—Frank McNally, The Irish Times

“A unique sound: energetic and full of emotion.”  —Gérard Viel, Trad Mag

“To my knowledge, no French band has ever done a greater honor to Irish music.  Doolin at once honors the musical tradition and makes it their own with a unique French touch.” —Garry West, Compass Records

http://www.doolin.fr/english/biography/

Patty Griffin – Servant Of Love

Patty Griffin has always been an artist fearlessly, eagerly willing to follow her muse wherever it may take her, and few artists can bare their souls in the recording studio with such compelling results. For her ninth studio album, 2015’s Servant of Love, Griffin has given herself more creative freedom than ever before, as it’s the first release from PGM Recordings, her own independent label. While Servant of Love doesn’t sound like an album she couldn’t have made for one of her former sponsors, it is a bravely eclectic, often enigmatic work that doesn’t announce all its attentions at first glance, but allows Griffin to use her lyrics and voice to communicate a soulful style that’s as much about tone as the literal message of the verses. As the title suggests, Servant of Love is, for the most part, a collection of songs about love, but these are not love songs per se. Instead, these tunes ponder the mysteries of attraction (the title song), the downsides of failing relationships (“Hurt a Little While” and “Good and Gone”), the love of a mother for her child (“250,000 Miles”), the power of physical attraction (“Snake Charmer”), and the nexus where love and spirituality meet (“Shine a Different Way” and “There Isn’t One Way”). The circular patterns of “250,000 Miles,” “Made of the Sun,” and “Everything’s Changed” suggest Eastern modalities finding a common ground with American folk and blues, while Ephraim Owens‘ trumpet on “Gunpowder” and “Servant of Love” adds an earthy jazz undertow to the arrangements, which takes this album just outside the boundaries of rootsy Americana. And though some of the tunes are whisper quiet while others howl like a honky tonk on Saturday night, Griffin knows just how hard to hit the material whatever the surroundings, and her vocals are emotionally intelligent and expressive throughout, while Griffin and producer Craig Ross coax some splendid performances from their session crew. Servant of Love is an album that needs a few spins to be fully appreciated, but it’s as sincere, heartfelt, and artful as anything Griffin has released to date, and if the form may seem elusive to some listeners, the content is powerful and satisfying, a reminder of why Patty Griffin is one of our best singer/songwriters.

Annie Keating – Make Believing

MAKE BELIEVING, the sixth album release by Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Annie Keating features just under a dozen self-penned songs, each bathed in her own distinct approach to Americana; strong melodies, mature lyrics and vulnerable vocal delivery. From the optimistic fairground fun of Coney Island, echoed in the cover picture, the bluesy I Want to Believe and the almost whispered desperation of Still Broken, the songs weave through the emotions with relative ease. Co-produced with long- time collaborator Jason Mercer, the breezy acoustic sound is fresh and inviting, possibly due to the fact that much of the album was recorded live in just a couple of days, with the occasional strategically placed ‘twang’ just to remind us of Annie’s Country sensibilities.

True Detective – Music From The HBO Series

Produced by T-Bone Burnett, True Detective: Music from the HBO Series features a collection of 14 songs from Seasons One and Two of the crime drama. The gritty, adventurous song selection includes heavy, haunting tracks from Nick Cave, Father John Misty, Cassandra Wilson, and Bob Dylan, among others, with multiple entries from Nashville singer/songwriter Lera Lynn. Rootsy and mysterious in character, the soundtrack is a must for fans of the murky tone of the show and should appeal to sultry-guitar fans, as well. The Handsome Family’s “Far from Any Road” and Leonard Cohen’s “Nevermind” — each season’s theme song — are also represented.