New folk-laden single from Hozier’s long-time cellist available now
“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).”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
(Now, how does a nice Irish boy come up with an Americana song that sounds like a slowed-down version of a traditional chain gang song, and with the lyrics that could easily come out of a mountain man. Go figure. But eff me! This song! Jasmine)
The recipient of much hype and praise for his breakthrough single “Take Me to Church,” Ireland’s Hozier does plenty to back it up on his self-titled debut LP. A soulful voice and a brooding mystique can get you a long way but fortunately, most of the material here is well-written enough to warrant a deeper look at the young artist many have labeled an old soul. Like fellow Irishman Van Morrison did decades before, Hozier (Andrew Hozier-Byrne) draws on the soul and R&B of Jackie Wilson and runs it through the mystery white-boy filter of Jeff Buckley, adding a touch of Bon Iver‘s rural indie aesthetic to mix into his own dark cocktail. Moodcraft and vibe are where Hozier is at his most effective and he hits his mark on the eerie, midnight-hour blues of “Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene” with its subtle layers of creepy choir boy and gospel vocals. It’s the logical sequel to his equally haunting “Take Me to Church,” which leads off this set. Coming in at 53 minutes and 13 tracks, the record is probably a bit too lengthy. The album’s best tracks, like the warm, laid-back “Someone New” and the grandiose shuffling of “From Eden” are all front loaded in the first half, while side two feels a bit weighed down with a few too many slow, contemplative pieces. When you’re dealing with the kind of spells Hozier is casting, it’s always best to leave them wanting more. Still, the dirge blues of “It Will Come Back,” with its dirty fiddle and electric guitar pairing, manages to rattle the church pews enough to help anchor the back half. In spite of its extra padding and occasional foibles, it’s a strong debut and Hozier is far more commanding and convincing than so many other blues-inspired young turks lurking conspicuously in the alleyways of indiedom.
Since becoming the youngest ever musician to win the prestigious BBC Young Folk Award – also the first from Ireland, and the first uilleann piper – Jarlath Henderson certainly hasn’t rushed into making his debut solo album. In fact it’s only now, more than a decade later, that this hotly-anticipated recording is finally in the bag, due out in autumn 2015.
Not that Henderson – also a triple All Ireland champion by the time he was 19 – has exactly been idle. Equally gifted on both pipes and whistles, he won huge critical plaudits for Partners in Crime, his 2008 duo release alongside Scottish co-instrumentalist Ross Ainslie, with whom he’s gigged extensively in both a trio and a six-piece, at international festivals including Celtic Connections, Cambridge, Tønder, Shetland, Lorient and Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Between times, he’s also appeared in such variously stellar company as The Transatlantic Sessions, Jack Bruce, Lau, Capercaillie, Paddy Keenan, Salsa Celtica, Phil Cunningham, Buille, Michael McGoldrick and the Earth Affair line-up, which performed for Nelson Mandela in 2005.
Now 29, Henderson featured on the soundtrack to Disney•Pixar’s 2013 hit Brave, while other recording work includes sessions with numerous folk luminaries including the Peatbog Faeries, Wolfstone, Luke Daniels, Maggie Reilly and Duncan Chisholm, plus genre-spanning Irish soprano/fiddler Deirdre Moynihan and award-winning Belfast poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn. And in tandem with all this music, he’s somehow found time to qualify as a doctor, studying for five years at Aberdeen before moving to his current base of Glasgow, juggling gigs with hospital shifts to complete his pre-specialist training.
Born in Co. Armagh, the middle child between two sisters in a music-loving household (“Dad plays pipes, Mum sings and plays guitar; at home there’d be trad coming from one room, classical out of another – you couldn’t get away from it”), Henderson himself began playing aged 10, attending classes at the world-famous Armagh Pipers Club (APC).
“As soon as I started, it was like someone suddenly switched on the music button,” he recalls. “Music for me became like football was for most boys my age. By the time I was 12 or 13, I’d be waking up in the morning and putting on old LPs, or playing tunes before school, then coming home and putting more records on while I did homework. First and foremost I just loved the tunes, but also I was a pretty hyperactive kid, and music gave me an outlet for all that energy, plus the discipline to go with it.”
While classical flute lessons at secondary school added valuable skills like sight-reading to his toolkit, traditional music was Henderson’s primary passion, despite the fact that, among his classmates, “it definitely was not a cool thing to be doing – especially when you also didn’t play football.” Any such stigma, however, was more than outweighed by the craic and adventures to be had via the APC: “The teaching was all in groups, by ear, with loads of youngsters involved – we’d all meet up at fleadhs around the country, and the club did exchange trips to Skye each year – there was always tons of fun stuff happening.”
Nonetheless, as the time approached for leaving school, Henderson decided against studying music formally. “I don’t really know where wanting to do medicine came from,” he says. “No one in my family is a doctor, but I was always good at science, and I just clicked onto it pretty early as something I thought I’d like – which I do. I did think about going to music college, but playing had always been a way for me to switch off from studying, so it felt kind of risky to turn it into work, in case it destroyed it as a release.”
If his equanimity today at juggling two such contrastingly high-pressure careers seems impressive, it’s probably because the pressure will never again feel quite as intense as when he won the Young Folk Award, late in 2003 – six months before his qualifying exams for medical school. “That was meant to be the year I wasn’t looking for gigs,” he remembers. “I honestly hadn’t realised what a big deal the competition was – I just picked up a flyer at Pipers Club and thought I’d give it a go. Obviously it was for the best, but it caused me a few proper freakouts – people on the phone wanting me to play every weekend, wanting biogs and photos and stage specs and interviews; me checking flights for gigs to see if I could be back for school, meanwhile trying to knuckle down for exams. I literally got into medicine by the skin of my teeth – but it wasn’t because I was messing about.”
The requisite grades thankfully in the bag, a pre-university year out had always been part of the plan, not least to capitalise on those prizewinner opportunities. Shortly before the Young Folk final, too, Henderson and Ainslie had met playing sessions at the William Kennedy Piping Festival – hosted annually by the APC – and their pyrotechnic partnership was already being forged.
While the combination of Irish and Scottish bagpipes is unusual, the pair “hit it off straight away, musically and personally,” Henderson says. “We both played very intensely, going round and round with each individual tune maybe seven or eight times, and also doing similar things phrasing-wise, so when we played together it just fitted really nicely. And while the music was very intense, the chat and the craic were really easy and natural. We never sat down and decided to form a duo, but by the end of the festival we knew we’d do something together.”
In the event, Henderson spent much of his gap year based at Ainslie’s mum’s guest house in Perthshire, helping with the cooking between gigs, while also starting work on what would – eventually – become Partners in Crime. “I was in my third year at Aberdeen by the time it finally came out,” Henderson observes. “That gives an idea of how much we had to learn about recording – and how much partying there was along the way. It wasn’t the most economical album to make, but we had a hell of a lot of fun doing it.”
Henderson’s dual musical/medical career has continued ever since. After he moved to Glasgow in 2010, performing and recording slotted in around his schedule as a junior hospital doctor, rotating through departments from A&E to psychiatry. While these twin vocations might seem to demand diametrically opposite lifestyles and mindsets, for Henderson they complement rather than conflict.
“I’m forever being asked if I won’t have to choose between them,” he says, “but so far I’ve been able to choose both. I think if I did music all the time, I’d probably be pretty crazy by now, and the same with medicine. It can get a bit crazy as it is – in between two blocks of shifts, I might be playing on two different continents – but doing both definitely helps level me out. It does feel like they use different parts of my brain, but I’m exactly the same guy in either job: I like the fact that I can take myself into them both, get across who I am as a person. There is a definite switch, though, as soon as I’m putting the scrubs on, from Jarlath Henderson to Dr Henderson – because five minutes later I might be dealing with someone coming down off a really bad heroin trip, or someone having a miscarriage, and that needs a very different focus.
“But medicine gives a lot of inspiration, too,” he continues. “You see all different sides of life, get all these wee glimpses into what happens in other people’s days – and you realise how lucky you are. You see the awful situations people get into with drink and drugs, or how for some people, being in hospital is the only human interaction they get apart from TV – you see it all; all the human fundamentals, which gives plenty to reflect on.”
Following a second duo album with Ainslie, 2013’s rave-reviewed Air-Fix, Henderson’s reflective side is firmly to the fore on his solo debut recording – which will surprise as well as delight existing fans, being comprised entirely of traditional songs. The odd vocal number has been featuring for a while in his live sets with Ainslie, mostly contemporary folk covers, revealing a warm, fervently expressive voice that’s won comparisons to Paul Brady. The new album, though, marks a more decisive broadening of his creative and expressive range, as well as a means of reconnecting with traditions close to home.
“I’ve sung since I was a kid – there was always loads of singing in the house,” he says. “It’s a whole other way of relating to an audience: you can conjure a mood or a feeling with a tune, but telling a story in words and music communicates with people in a different way. Plus I don’t want to be put in a box as a piper – I’d like to be seen simply as a musician.”
Most of the chosen songs have direct connections with Henderson’s native turf in Northern Ireland, an area renowned for its rich vocal heritage. He’s drawn on the repertoire of such leading tradition-bearers as Paddy Tunney, Sarah Makem, Roisín White and Geordie Hanna, as well as on versions of some material which have journeyed considerably from their roots. “There’s one really old song, ‘The Slighted Lover’, that’s originally from Armagh, but was first written down in London,” he explains. “I also do a really dark version of ‘The Two Brothers’, which I got from Brian Mullen, who does a show on Radio Ulster, but the original recording, back in the day, was by Elizabeth Stewart from Aberdeen. I really like those kinds of connections – and at a time when the barriers seem to be going up between people and countries, I love the way songs just cut across borders like that.”
While the material is wholly traditional, Henderson’s arrangements on the album are a characteristically bold yet sensitive synthesis of old and new. Besides lead vocals, he himself contributes pipes, whistles, cittern and guitar, with fiddle, flute and double bass also in the mix, courtesy of fellow Glasgow folk luminaries Hamish Napier, Innes Watson and Duncan Lyall. As well as backing vocals from Henderson’s s sister Alana, further instrumentation includes electric guitar, a three-piece brass section, Rhodes, Moog and Wurlitzer keyboards, and percussion/soundscaping by acclaimed beatboxer and “vocal sculptor” Jason Singh. At the controls in the studio was Andrea Gobbi, of Scottish ‘folktronica’ heroes Laki Mera, who – among myriad other magic technical tricks – recorded Henderson’s pipes right up close and personal, creating sundry looped and sampled effects from the sounds of creaking leather and closing valves.
“I didn’t consciously set out to make it sound un-traditional,” Henderson says of the album. “It’s not experimental in that sense – all the ideas for arrangements came from what I heard in the songs. I was aiming for a kind of 70s-style analogue sound – we recorded quite a lot on ribbon microphones, plus all those vintage keyboards – so there’s still a definite traditional vibe or vein running through it.”
Since finishing his first postgraduate phase of medical training, Henderson is currently dovetailing musical projects with locum work, as he ponders his options for further training. The duo and band with Ainslie remain ongoing, while a solo pipes and whistle recording is also in his sights – perhaps next year – but right now, it’s all about the songs. “It’s lovely to have done something that’s purely me, that shows something of how I’ve developed over the last ten years or so,” he says. “These are all songs that really got to me the first time I heard them, and have stayed with me ever since – it has to strike true for me to want to sing it.”
In 2004, Norman Blake concluded an interview with CMT by saying, “Long ago, I decided I had no future trying to be a guitar gun. I never did like it in the first place…I always liked music more than technique.” That’s saying a lot for a man who has been playing professionally since the ’50s with Mother Maybelle, June Carter Cash, and Anita & Helen Carter, among others, and he’s played on iconic records by Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and John Hartford, to name just three. On Wood, Wire & Words, his first recording of all-original pieces since 1974’s Fields of November, Blake makes plain the statement above. This set is solo save for one track: the fine country-gospel number “There’s a One Way Road to Glory,” co-written with his wife Nancy Blake, who also sings harmony on it. He plays his signature Martin 000-28B and a 1928 Martin 000-45. Blake‘s singing voice is slightly weathered but still expressive and soulful in its trademark understatement. His guitar playing, as usual, is unassailable and deliberately slower; it effortlessly fits these well-crafted songs that are rooted deeply in the Southern soil. There are two tracks he cut previously: “Savannah Rag” is played in a fingerpicked style this time around, and “Chattanooga Rag,” previously recorded on a six-string banjo, is played with bare fingers. But it’s his story songs that resonate most. “Keeper of the Government Light on the River” is about a man who could support a family for $15 a month. “The Incident at Condra’s Switch,” a tale about a train robbery, is one of several excellent outlaw ballads on the record. It tells of an older, wilder, and more easily understood America. Outlaw ballad “Black Bart” unfolds gradually. The first-person narrative is replete with scenic imagery, personas, archetypes, and an outlook that ironically bridges the nation’s from past to present. Another one, “Joseph Thompson Hare on the Old Natchez Trace,” is about a gunslinger who traveled from the Northeast to the Deep South only to find himself at the end of a hangman’s noose in Baltimore. The set’s most compelling cut, however, is one from the time of the Mexican Revolution. “Farewell Francisco Madero,” with its lilting mariachi intro, gets transposed it into a more conventional, minor-key folk ballad, but Blake‘s lyrics are riveting; his delivery is haunted and beguiling, making the distance between place and time melt into the ether: all that’s left is now. “Grady Forester’s Store and Cotton Gin” is autobiographical. Again, Blake‘s words erase the intervening years and take the listener directly back to that period and the inside of his experience. For Blake‘s fans, Wood, Wire & Words sounds like the album he’s wanted to make for decades. For those who love American folk music but are unfamiliar with his work, there has never been a better argument for making this a starting place and moving backward.