Lori Gordon

Bletherings From a Music Obsessed Mind

Fiona Cuthill & Stevie Lawrence – “A Cruel Kindness”

Fiona Cuthill and Stevie Lawrence have been musical partners for a long time, working together in such bands as Whirligig, Canterach, and Rallion, among others.  A Cruel Kindness is their first album as a duo and is a mixture of old friends and new acquaintances. Those familiar with the duo’s work with Rallion will recognize a few of the tracks, which have appeared previously on Rallion’s albums. Here, however, they are given a fresh start with new arrangements and guest musicians.  The melancholy of “Waiting for Dawn” is lightened by Fraser Speirs’ harmonica and Brendan McCreanor helps turn “Back on Track” into an all-out jam.

The real gems of this album, though, are the new compositions. Fiona Cuthill is a truly gifted composer.  Even simply-arranged tunes have an underlying depth and complexity to them.  They have that indefinable thing that commands attention and, at times, takes one’s breath away.  Stevie Lawrence helps bring those tunes to life with his virtuosity, whether on guitar or bouzouki.  Their long partnership has allowed them to really explore the nuances in their music. Together, they create a magic that is greater than the sum of their parts.

The jigs and reels allow them to stretch their legs and hint at their love of rock music.  “Andy D’s Reel” from “The Seven Sisters” set is a rollicking, toe-tapping reel and though “One for Brendan” from “Unfinished Business” may have failed as a pipe tune, it’s a fantastic fiddle tune and features truly top notch fiddling.  However, it is the title track, “A Cruel Kindness,” that is worth the cost of the album alone.  Opening with the sublime harp of Rachel Hair, the throatiness of Cuthill’s fiddle takes the listener on an emotional journey into that well of sadness and hurt created by unintentional words and acts.

A Cruel Kindness is an outstanding debut that shines the spotlight on Cuthill and Lawrence’s abounding musical talent.

To visit Fiona & Stevie’s Facebook page, click here.

September 21, 2011 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Traditional | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Annlaug – “November”

I’ve been waiting a long time for Annlaug’s debut album, November, to come to fruition. Demos of sparse fiddle tunes and songs had captured my attention and I was curious to see where it would all lead. November is everything I had hoped it would be and more. It’s sophisticated, engaging and musically diverse.

Featuring a Who’s Who of Scottish folk musicians (Mattie Foulds, Inge Thomson, Martin Green, Aidan O’Rourke and Anna Massie, to name a few), plus string arrangements by Kim Edgar, November delivers a powerhouse of sound and artistry.

Annlaug’s musical versatility is evident in the array of styles presented here. Rock, Americana, folk and traditional flavors are married beautifully on this album. Having primarily heard her fiddle tunes up to this point, I was surprised, and pleasantly so, to discover that the majority of November is sung. Regardless of style, Annlaug’s self-penned lyrics paint an intimate portrait of the songwriter. It doesn’t really matter that the lyrics are in Norwegian (English translations are given in the liner notes) because her voice ably tells each story.

The entire album is brilliant and it was difficult to choose favorites. That said, my favorites are “Hakestad,” which showcases Annlaug’s exquisite Hardanger fiddle playing; “Songen Eg Skulle Ha Skreve,” with its gorgeous strings; and the two traditional lullabies: “Suril Luril” and “Till Till Tove,” which closes the album with a sparse, haunting arrangement.

With November, Annlaug has established herself as a force to be reckoned with on the contemporary folk scene.

To visit Annlaug’s MySpace page, click here.



February 25, 2010 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Singer-Songwriter, Traditional | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joy Dunlop – Dùsgadh (Awakening)

Joy Dunlop has been a strong advocate of the Gaelic language, both as a teacher and as a performer. Those roles continue on her debut release Dùsgadh (Awakening). Sung in Gaelic, with liner notes in Gaelic and English, Dùsgadh offers listeners a guided foray into the world of traditional Gaelic song.

Though the material is traditional, the delivery is fresh and vibrant, reminding the listener that this is indeed a living language. Sultry jazz grooves, string crescendos, luscious piano and even step dancing layer behind Joy’s crystalline voice. While the puirt a beul and upbeat songs are performed brilliantly, Joy’s real strength is in the songs of love and tragedy. Her voice beautifully transports us deep inside each story. We feel every nuance of love, wistfulness, despair and grief.

The standout song for me is the closing track, “Thig Am Bata,” a take on the Two Sisters tale. It is heartbreakingly poignant and left me breathless. I found it to be the perfect conclusion to this album.

Joy Dunlop’s Dùsgadh (Awakening) is an amazing debut that promises even greater things to come.

To visit her website, click here.

To visit her MySpace page, click here.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Traditional | , , , , | Leave a comment

Gjermund Larsen Trio – “Ankomst”

Prior to stumbling across this album, I had only heard Gjermund’s work with the traditional Norwegian super-group Majorstuen. I was curious to hear the direction he ventured on his own. What I found was a sumptuously intoxicating album.

A few of the pieces on Ankomst are given a very traditional treatment, especially “Brudemarsj” and the album’s one song, “Sukkersøtt”. However, the majority of the tunes feature Gjermund’s divine fiddling interwoven with gentle jazz piano and bass.

I rarely describe albums in terms of sex appeal, but Ankomst definitely has it. There is a dreamy sensuality, almost a sultriness that runs through this album. The opening trio of tunes, “Arrivals,” “Midnattsdrøm,” and “Regntung Dag” invite you into the reverie, which is really only broken by the bonus track “Kitchenpolka,” a fast-paced, somewhat jarring conclusion to the album.

With the exception of that last track, there really are no weak areas on Ankomst. While each track can definitely stand on its own, I’ve found it a much more fulfilling experience to listen to the album as a whole. This is an excellent album to get lost in at the end of the day.

Those attending the final weekend of Celtic Connections 2010 can see Gjermund perform with Majorstuen on 30 Jan. and 31 Jan. with his trio.

To visit Gjermund’s MySpace page, click here.

January 4, 2010 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Jazz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tristan Le Govic – “Awen”

If there was one word to describe Awen, Tristan Le Govic’s latest offering, it would be Gentle. In his hands, the Celtic harp laments, dreams and dances its way through this collection of original and traditional music. Included here are slow airs, slides, slip jigs and other tunes from Le Govic’s native Brittany, as well as Ireland, Scotland and even Sweden.

While the jazz-laced tunes “Dans Plin” and “Piz Bihan” show off Tristan’s great technical skill, it’s the gentle, slower pieces that really shine. Here, the true voice and soul of his harp can be heard.

“Le Songe d’Orianne” is the sumptuous lament of a mermaid queen, with layers as deep as the ocean she dwells in.  On another original tune, “Glaz,” the listener is infused with  the soft golden sunlight of the rain-drenched forest that inspired this piece. The album closes with  the traditional “Enez Eusa,” a beautiful tune full of profound longing.

The solo instrument nature of Awen allows the listener to enjoy the breadth of sound the Celtic harp can produce, as well as the intricate nuances. Tristan Le Govic has created a gorgeous tapestry. This album is a “must-have” for Celtic harp fans, as well as those seeking an introduction to the “son Telenn,” the sound of the Breton harp.

To visit Tristan’s website, click here.

To visit his MySpace page, click here.

December 10, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic | , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Albums of 2009

2009 was a fantastic year for music, especially of the folk and traditional variety. As I assembled my Top 10 albums of the year, I realized that the majority of the artists on the list were new to me this year. Some are new artists with debut recordings, others are seasoned professionals adding to their catalogs. Regardless, the one thing all of the albums on this list have in common is that they are incredibly brilliant and every single one of them made my mouth drop open. They excited me, moved me, and made me hit the repeat button numerous times.

As is usually the case with such lists, there were more albums than space and, as I came to the last spot, I had to choose between three equally deserving entries. The two albums that very narrowly missed making it into this year’s Top 10 are Annbjørg Lien/Bjørn Ole Rasch – Come Home and Fiddlers’ Bid – All Dressed in Yellow. Which brings me to the one that did make it:

#10  Julie Fowlis – Uam.

Julie’s third album is just as lovely as her earlier works, though this one has a more traditional sound, which really serves to accentuate Julie’s vocals. Uam also features a great duet with Eddi Reader.

Favorite Tracks:  Rugadh Mi ‘n Teis Meadhan Na Mara, Wind And Rain

#9  Yvonne Lyon – Ashes & Gold

This is an album of delightful extremes, from light-hearted & carefree to poignantly dark & intense. I find her songwriting more intimate, more personal, and more mature than on previous releases. Her voice carries an amazing amount of emotion that goes straight to the heart.

Favorite Tracks:  The Reckoning, Hollow Sound

#8  Donald Grant – The Way Home

A spectacular album that fuses a variety of world music styles with Donald’s gorgeous fiddling. It’s a brilliant melting pot of sounds and an excellent showcase of his versatility as a composer.

Favorite Tracks:  Rollerblade Reels, An Gille Bàn

#7  Maggie MacInnes – A Fàgail Mhiughalaigh

Maggie’s voice is incredibly beautiful and she has taken a really fresh approach to this album. Behind the Gaelic lyrics, keyboards & percussion meet pipes, clarsach & fiddles, to fantastic effect.

Favorite Tracks:  Leis An Lurgainn, ‘N Robh Thu ‘Sa Bheinn?

#6  Jamie McClennan – In Transit

This album has continued to impress me the more I listen to it. It is definitely a fiddle album, but Jamie has a really fun, eclectic, funky style that makes it a true delight to listen to. It features some dazzling tune writing, to boot.

Favorite Tracks:  Little Red, Horizontal Living

#5  Martine Lund Hoel – Hidden Shore

There is a wild, exotic energy that runs through this entire album. It’s passionate and utterly intoxicating. It’s very easy to envision the extreme ruggedness of northern Norway when listening to the album.

Favorite Tracks:  Varganatt, Disquiet Hour

#4  Catherine Fraser/Duncan Smith – Rhymes & Reasons

This album features really enchanting takes on traditional tunes. Elements of Cape Breton and American fiddling are woven throughout Catherine’s Scottish style. They are also not afraid to step outside the box and throw in a few surprises.

Favorite Tracks:  Rothiemurchus Rant set, Raoghull Agus Cairistine

#3  Olov Johansson/Catriona McKay – Foogy

This album is the epitome of innovation. It’s vibrant, exciting, and truly phenomenal. Olov, on nyckelharpa, and Catriona, on Scottish harp, come together in an amazing explosion of sound.

Favorite Tracks:  The Foogy Set, 1st Class to Glasgow

#2  Rallion – One For Sorrow

The thing I love most about this group is that they play their hearts out on every track. The double fiddle lineup adds a wonderful complexity to their rich, charismatic sound. This is a splendid album of warm, gorgeous vocals and driving, exquisite tunes. Fiona Cuthill is, hands down, my favorite contemporary tune writer and Marieke McBean is my favorite traditional folk singer.

Favorite Tracks:  Waiting For Dawn, Cold Haily Windy Night, Fez

#1  Lauren MacColl – Strewn With Ribbons

There are few other fiddlers, if any, that can interpret slow airs as masterfully as Lauren. She somehow manages to crawl deep into the heart of the tune and make it her own. The results are devastatingly beautiful and emotional. After almost a year, this album still has the power to take my breath away. I would have no qualms about adding it to a “Top 10 of the Decade” list. It’s that good.

Favorite Tracks:  Lament For Mr. Thomas Grant, of Glen Elgin, Oigfhear A Chuil Duinn (Young Man of the Brown Hair), The Prophet

November 29, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Donald Grant – “The Way Home”

Having traveled throughout the world, Donald Grant has taken all of those musical influences and blended them into a simmering fusion of world music on The Way Home. Around every corner is something different – flamenco, slow air, Mexican bolero, jazz – and through it all is Donald’s divine fiddling. Joining him on this adventure is a stellar cast of musicians, among them:  Catriona McKay, Seamus Egan, Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, and James MacIntosh.

Aside from performance and production, Donald’s tune writing talents are incredibly diverse and mature. The majority of the pieces on The Way Home are self-penned. The most poignant is the Gaelic-language lullaby “Tha Thu Daonnan Nam Smuain (You are always in my thoughts),” co-written with his father and sung by Karen Matheson. It is breathtakingly gorgeous and Karen’s vocals carry it deep into the heart. This gorgeousness is also found on “Chrissie’s”, a touching slow air written for his aunt. It begins gently with harp and fiddle before swelling into a crescendo of full strings. It then finishes as gently as it began.

Donald’s talents aren’t confined to slow pieces. “Reel Valencia” features rapid-fire fiddling over a flamenco rhythm, while “NZ 2004” is a funky, jazz-infused tune that commemorates a trip to New Zealand with friends. One of my favorites is “Rollerblade Reels,” a rollicking set that includes 2 puirt a beul (mouth music) tunes.

The two non-original pieces are worth mentioning here. The first is the stunning Highland slow air “An Gille Bàn (The Fair Haired Lad)”, also known as “An T-Iarla Diurach (The Earl of Jura)”. Donald’s rendition is exquisitely haunting and, for me personally, the highlight of the album. It is an amazing showcase of his virtuosity. The second piece is the Mexican bolero “Noche de Ronda,” a sultry torch song made more so by the smoldering vocals of Sally Doherty.

An old Gaelic proverb says, “The man who roamed furthest from home heard the sweetest music when he returned home.”  Donald Grant’s The Way Home is, indeed, the sweetest music.

To visit Donald’s official website, click here.

To visit Donald’s MySpace page, click here.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Jazz, Traditional | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jamie McClennan – “In Transit”

jamie mcclennan

After several years as a core member of Emily Smith’s band, New Zealand-born fiddler Jamie McClennan has finally come forward and released his own solo album, In Transit. It takes a certain audacity for an instrumentalist to release a debut album of all original tunes and it definitely pays off here, as that confidence can be heard throughout this recording. In Transit is a refreshing amalgamation of material that highlights Jamie’s skill as a musician, as well as a composer.

The tunes on In Transit reflect Jamie’s diverse musical influences. The album opens with “Emily’s Wee Tune/In Transit,” the latter of which is a rollicking bluegrass-tinged tune, before moving into “Fun With Colin,” which would be at home in any traditional session. There are several slow melodies on the recording that have a real sweetness and sensitivity about them. “Crichope Linn/The Painted Lady” and “Road to Bennan” are truly gorgeous.

I have a fondness for tunes that know their way around the bottom end of the fiddle and I was pleased to find a few tunes here that fit this bill. The added bonus is that these tunes are funky, contemporary and fun! Leading the way is “Little Red,” followed closely by the “Demon Ducks of Doom” and “Rainbow Sheep” sets.

Jamie McClennan’s In Transit is an outstanding album with an incredible amount of musicianship and maturity. I certainly hope he continues to branch out and produce solo work.

To visit Jamie’s official website, click here.

To visit Jamie’s MySpace page, click here.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Folk, Traditional | , , , , | Leave a comment

Annbjørg Lien & Bjørn Ole Rasch – “Come Home”

annbjorg bjorn

Come Home is a new duo project by Annbjørg Lien and long-time collaborator/producer Bjørn Ole Rasch. Featuring Lien on fiddle, hardanger fiddle and nyckelharpa and Rasch on harmonium, Come Home is a bold melding of traditional and contemporary, intimate and innovative.

The album opens with “Funk Trunk,” one of seven original tunes. It’s a fast-paced, edgy piece that sees fiddle and harmonium trading lead and percussive roles throughout and really sets the mood for the remainder of the album. The most innovative track comes midway through the album, in the form of “Woody’s Bounce,” which features a fantastic interplay between the nyckelharpa and harmonium.

Come Home includes two tunes that have appeared on other Lien recordings. The reworking of “January” is quite gorgeous and a welcome addition here. However, “The Old Car” doesn’t really offer anything new. The surprise track on the album is the title track “Come Home” (Kom Heim), which is sung by Annbjørg, with backing vocals by Bjørn Ole.

Fans of Lien’s more traditional fiddle work will not be disappointed. Her performances of the traditional “Jo the Giant” (Kjempe-Jo) and the two Hans W. Brimi pieces, “The Goblin’s Halling” (Tusshallingen) and “The Little Goblin” (Tusseliten), are truly exquisite and, for me, they are the standout tracks on the album.

Come Home manages to push into new territory while simultaneously staying close to home. It’s a joyous exploration of old and new and a journey well worth taking.

To visit Annbjørg’s official website, click here.

To visit Annbjørg’s MySpace page, click here.

October 14, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Traditional | , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Poozies – “Yellow Like Sunshine”

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The Poozies latest release, Yellow Like Sunshine, demonstrates that they are still a force to be reckoned with on the traditional folk scene. Their first studio recording in several years, newcomers Eilidh Shaw (fiddle, vocals) and Mairearad Green (piano accordion, pipes, vocals) have joined original members Mary Macmaster, Patsy Seddon and Sally Barker. The result is a brilliant album of fantastic vocal harmonies and spectacular instrumentals.

The album opens with the traditional “Hó Mhòrag,” before crossing the Atlantic on the contemporary Americana song “Black Eyed Susan.” Other traditional and contemporary songs are sprinkled throughout Yellow Like Sunshine, all featuring The Poozies trademark harmonies.  The show stealer, however, is the closing track, “Will I See Thee More.” Stunning vocal harmonies and a subtle drone beautifully convey the deep anguish and sorrow of a lover saying goodbye.

What impressed me most about this album, though, are the instrumental pieces. The Poozies are amazing musicians and the tunes feature tightly interwoven fiddles, harps and accordion, backed by guitars & percussion. “The Planxty Lover” and “The Hen’s March” perfectly showcase their virtuosity.

Nineteen years on, The Poozies can still deliver! Yellow Like Sunshine is fresh and vibrant and destined to garner new generations of fans.

To visit their official website, click here.

To visit their MySpace page, click here.

This review is also published at Folk Radio UK.

October 8, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Folk, Traditional | , , , | Leave a comment