Lori Gordon

Bletherings From a Music Obsessed Mind

Martine Lund Hoel – “Hidden Shore”

MartineLundHoel-HiddenShore

If I had to describe the debut release Hidden Shore by Martine Lund Hoel in one word, it would be intoxicating. Martine is a hardanger fiddler from Norway, but this is definitely not Norwegian folk music. Hidden Shore features a seductively lush aural landscape that one can get delightfully lost in.

Martine’s fiddling is exquisite as she explores the full range of her instrument. Additionally, she is backed by a full band, which adds rich layers to each piece. “Vildans” and “Varganatt” absolutely brim with unbridled passion. Equally breath-taking are the serenely pastoral “Sadly Missed” and the album’s one song, “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat,” done in a breathy soprano that quickly gets under the skin in a good way.

Hidden Shore is a stunning album that has left me wanting much more.

To hear Martine’s music, visit her MySpace page.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, New Age | , , , | Leave a comment

Synnøve Rognlien – “Undr”

synnove rognlien

Undr is the debut release by Norwegian singer Synnøve Rognlien. I can read and write a little Norwegian but can only understand about 1 in 50 words when it’s spoken. Why, then, am I reviewing an album sung entirely in Norwegian? Because her music is amazing.  Her voice is an exquisite instrument that carries me over a beautiful, gentle, almost hypnotic landscape.

Her music is a rich blending of acoustic, folk-based music with electronica, along with elements of jazz and Gregorian chant thrown in for good measure. I find Undr joyously refreshing. The two most straight-forward, melodic songs are “Som Bare Du Bar” and “Du Som Våker”. Most of the other pieces rest more comfortably in the experimental vein. The most stunning song on this album is “Det Røde”. The arrangement is very stark, highlighting Synnøve’s emotion-laden voice. The album closes on a fantastic note with “Du”. My favorite pieces are “Det Røde”, “Serk”, and “Du Som Våker”, with “Du” not far behind.

This album is an incredible tapestry of sound that definitely warrants repeated listenings.

To learn more about Synnøve and hear her music, visit her MySpace page.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Avant-Garde, Jazz | , , , , | Leave a comment

Kim Edgar – “butterflies and broken glass”

kim edgar

On butterflies and broken glass, Kim Edgar has moved into very different territory from her previous releases. Gone is the jazzy lounge sound, replaced by more contemporary pop/folk stylings. This is definitely a more mature album and readily establishes Kim as a force to be reckoned with on the Scottish singer/songwriter scene

butterflies also sees a shift in Kim’s songwriting style. Her lyrics are still well-crafted and moving, but they aren’t quite as intimate as earlier songs, as though the perspective is from a step back instead of right there in the grit with her. In general, her songwriting skills have become much tighter, due, I think, to her experiences in 2006’s Burnsong Songhouse project. There she worked side-by-side with the likes of Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, King Creosote, MC Soom T and others. Three of the ten tracks were co-written with members of that group

The thing that has impressed me the most about butterflies is the music. Kim has composed some exceptional pieces that really form the fabric of each song. One feels the utter intensity of the situation in “Scissors, Paper, Stone,” a dramatic piece about domestic violence, as well as the lighter nostalgia that imbues “Red”. This album is full of depth and texture and excellently showcases her skills as a composer. Additionally, she is backed by a stellar cast of musicians, most of whom happen to be Karine Polwart’s band, including Karine herself. Their musical abilities and professionalism truly help set this recording apart.

Kim has a gorgeous, melodious voice and she displays a greater range than on her earlier works. My only wish here is that her voice carried a bit more of the emotion often heard in her live performances. However, this is a minor thing, as the quality throughout is outstanding. My favorite tracks are “Just Outside Your Door,” the aforementioned “Scissors, Paper, Stone,” and “House on the Hill,” co-written with Emma Pollock.

Overall, butterflies and broken glass is a brilliant recording and I’m keenly awaiting future projects.

To learn more about Kim and her music, visit her MySpace page or her official website.

To read a review of Kim Edgar’s “Wee Dote”, click here.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Singer-Songwriter | , , , | 2 Comments

Lauren MacColl – “Strewn With Ribbons”

lauren strewn

Scottish fiddler Lauren MacColl’s sophomore release, Strewn With Ribbons, is an eleven-track collection of original compositions and traditional tunes from the Highland Collections. Lauren is soundly supported by band members Barry Reid on guitar and Mhairi Hall on piano, with guest appearances by Donald Shaw on accordion and harmonium, Su-a Lee on cello, and Chris Stout on viola.

The album opens with “Oigfhear A Chuil Duinn (Young Man of the Brown Hair),” which is the surprise track of the album. It begins with Lauren’s characteristic crystalline playing, but as it moves into the driving “Poolachrie,” the style becomes grittier and more impassioned, to fantastic effect.

Lauren delivers brilliantly energetic performances on the strathspeys, reels and jigs found here, especially on “The Prophet,” “Happy Hours,” and “Highland Wedding,” but the true gems of this album are the slow airs. There are few Highland fiddlers who do them better. Not only is her playing exquisitely poignant, but the arrangements give Strewn With Ribbons a depth and maturity that are simply stunning.

The sonorous tones of Su-a Lee’s cello on “‘S Trom Trom A Tha Mi (Sad, Sad Am I)” provide a perfect counterpoint to the melancholy of Lauren’s fiddle, while the achingly beautiful “Lament for Mr. Thomas Grant, of Glen Elgin” features a tender interplay between fiddle and viola. The album closes with the mournful “Hugh Allan,” performed solely by Lauren. The stark emotion of the piece lingers long after the music ends.

Strewn With Ribbons is a gorgeous journey from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

To learn more about Lauren and hear her music, visit her website or MySpace page.

folking sm

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Traditional | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Olov Johansson & Catriona McKay – “Foogy”

Olov Johansson Catriona McKay

Olov Johansson and Catriona McKay have teamed up to create an album that is big, bold and bursting with amazing sound. Johansson’s nyckelharpa and McKay’s Scottish harp complement each other perfectly on this thirteen-track collection of primarily original compositions. Fresh, inventive arrangements give both artists the opportunity to show the full character of their instruments.

Though I was impressed with the wonderful melody lines, I was more impressed by the supporting roles each was able to play. It is here that the full range of the instruments can truly be appreciated, from soulful droning to bold, percussive rhythms. Whether playing lead or support, McKay and Johansson’s mastery never lets the listener forget that there are two instruments present.

The opening track “1st Class to Glasgow” is delightfully upbeat and gives a good taste of the overall feel of Foogy. Both artists excel on rapid-fire runs and there are plenty found throughout, especially on “Rain/Ekoln,” “In The Castle,” and “The Foogy Set.” Equally capable at the other end of the spectrum, McKay and Johansson deliver an achingly beautiful performance on “The Harper’s Dismissal.”

Foogy is exciting, contemporary and a definite breath of fresh air. I sincerely hope Johansson and McKay continue to collaborate on future projects.

To learn more about Olov and Catriona, click here.

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May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Avant-Garde, Folk, Traditional | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fridarey – “Across The Waters”

fridarey

I recently picked up the debut release Across The Waters by the Fair Isle group Friðarey. The group is composed of brothers Neil and Stewart Thomson, their sister Anne Sinclair, Anne’s daughter Lise and Neil’s daughter Eileen. The only member I had any previous knowledge of was Lise and I debated starting with this album vs. Lise’s solo recording. I opted for this one first based solely on the strength of one song: “Day Dawn”, which is one of my all-time favorite tunes.

The risk in getting an album based on one song is that you either end up with a disc of gems or an expensive single. Across the Waters is absolutely a disc of gems, even though “Day Dawn” is very different from all of the other pieces. The album features several a cappella songs; one listen of their soaring harmonies and you’ll understand the beauty of voice as instrument. Across the Waters is a mixture of traditional and original compositions, most of which pay homage to life on the Fair Isle or the Shetlands in general. Of particular note are “Far Away” and “Hello, Auld Boat”. For the adventurous, several of the songs are sung in the Shetland dialect.

Rounding out the collection is the American folk song “Cotton Mill Girls”, the Swedish song “Swedish Angel” and the South African spiritual “Halleluya”, which, having learned this song many years ago, I was very pleasantly surprised to find here. The crowning jewel, however, is the closing track “Day Dawn”, which features Lise’s exquisite poetry set to the traditional tune “(Da) Day Dawn”. This is the only solo piece on the album, with Lise accompanying herself on piano. The poignancy of it will leave you breathless and aching and longing for more.

You can find out more about Friðarey here or hear more from Lise Sinclair (including “Day Dawn”) on her MySpace page.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Folk, Traditional | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joanne McIver & Christophe Saunière – “Glenfinnan to Glasgow”

mciver and sauniere

I first encountered Joanne McIver and Christophe Saunière a few months ago through their current release, The Three Sisters. Having quite enjoyed that recording, I decided to check out their back catalog, this time settling on Glenfinnan To Glasgow, released in 2006.

Overall, I found this album to have a more traditional sound throughout than their current release, though it is not without a few contemporary nuances, particularly towards the end of the album. Through song and music, Glenfinnan To Glasgow tells stories of those who worked the land and fished the waters. It tells of the darkness of the Highland Clearances and the Blantyre mine disaster. And it tells of the bustle of Glasgow and the dockyards.

The gentle melancholy of Joanne’s voice is the perfect vehicle for this material. She has the ability to pull the listener into the song. The vocal highlights are “The Herring Fishers” and “The Clearances Lullaby.” For as lovely as the singing is, however, it is the instrumental tracks that steal the show. Joanne and Christophe are outstanding musicians and their delivery is exquisite. Nestled amongst the melancholy are driving pipe tunes that give this album an engaging vitality. The standout tracks on this recording are “Blantrye 1877,” “Scottish Inventors” and “The Clydeside Dockyards.”

This album is definitely worthy of a listen. To find out more about Joanne & Christophe and their music, as well as to hear some tracks from this recording, stop by their MySpace page.

You can read a review of their album The Three Sisters here.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Folk | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Máirín Fahy – “Máirín”

Mairin Fahy

Over the past few months, I’ve heard several Irish fiddle albums that made me feel as though I was at a recital; the playing was technically precise but there was really no joie de vivre in the music. So when I came across Máirín Fahy’s album, I didn’t have high hopes. However, the picture of her purple electric fiddle intrigued me enough to give it a listen. What I found was a thoroughly engaging recording full of passion and flair.

Máirín is a collection of mostly upbeat traditional and original material that showcases Fahy’s fiddling skills. “Midnight in Galway” and “The Celtic Prancer” are the most contemporary, featuring electric guitar riffs that, in the former, seem out of place, but definitely more at home in the latter. “Tip of the Iceberg“, written by fellow Riverdance member Brendan Power, is a rousing Americana-styled tune, with Power’s blues harmonica jamming alongside Fahy’s fiddle. The highlights of this album are Fahy’s rendition of “Flower of Magherally” and the beautiful air “Mission Bay“, co-written with brother Gerald. The only disappointments are the other vocal tracks, “Every Circumstance” and “Irish Maid“. Fahy has a very fine voice but these songs just didn’t work for me.

Overall, this is a lively and fun album and is definitely worth checking out. You can find out more about Máirín Fahy at her website.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Traditional | , , , , | Leave a comment

Alison Brown – “Stolen Moments”

Alison Brown

I recently picked up a couple of older recordings and have been enjoying them throughout the weekend. One of those is “Stolen Moments” by Alison Brown, which was released in 2005. The thing that fascinated me the most about this album is the variety of music styles, not just from track to track, but also within each track. The style seems to be dictated by whomever is playing the lead at any given moment. Fiddler Stuart Duncan provides a strong trad & bluegrass sound, whereas pianist John R. Burr provides a very distinct jazz sound. When in the lead, Alison Brown’s banjo weaves back and forth between bluegrass and jazz.

This album features 4 vocal tracks, each done by different vocalists. Three of those tracks, featuring the Indigo Girls on “Homeward Bound“, Beth Nielsen Chapman on “Angel” (the old Jimi Hendrix song), and Mary Chapin Carpenter on “Prayer Wheel“, are pleasant but just okay. Had Emmylou Harris done the vocals on “Angel“, I think it would have been a very different story. The stellar track here is “One Morning in May” featuring the vocals and fiddling of Andrea Zonn. Incidently, it’s the only track that doesn’t feature the banjo.

Of the instrumental tracks, there are 3 really stand-out tracks: the heavily bluegrass flavored “The Magnificent Seven“, which Brown co-wrote with guitarist John Doyle; “Carrowkeel“, which features the beautifully haunting whistle of Seamus Egan; and the fabulously-named “(I’m Naked and I’m) Going to Glasgow“, which begins with the jig “The Grey Goose” before spinning into 3 reels. This last tune gives the musicians the most room to stretch their legs and really showcase their talents.

Though I generally prefer more traditional bluegrass over the somewhat ridiculously named “jazzgrass”, on the whole, I enjoyed “Stolen Moments.”

To hear more of Alison’s music, check out her MySpace page.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Bluegrass, Folk, Jazz, Traditional | , , , , | Leave a comment

Beoga – “The Incident”

Beoga

Irish group Beoga delivers a rollicking romp across genres on The Incident, their third album. Though the group refuses to detail the event that inspired the title track, this album is a lively and entertaining mix of jigs, reels, polkas and songs filtered through the quirky minds of the band.

Beoga sets the tone with “Lamped,” a tune that swerves between pulsing and sedate before launching into a high-octane finish, complete with party sirens. Equally exciting is the Klezmer-flavored “The Flying Golf Club” set, which begins with “The Jewish Polka” and ends with a tune inspired by an amusement park mishap. Lest one thinks Beoga is all high energy, the band performs a lovely rendition of Ciaran O’Grady’s “The Bellevue Waltz.”

Niamh Dunne gives stellar vocal performances on the gospel number “Strange Things,” done in a ragtime style, and the amusing “On The Way,” which features the guest vocals of Joe Echo (Ciaran Gribbin) and a gentle Calypso beat.

The Incident is a delightful, feel-good album and confirms Beoga’s place as a powerhouse in the Irish traditional scene.

To learn more about Beoga, click here.

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May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Folk | , , , , , | Leave a comment