Lori Gordon

Bletherings From a Music Obsessed Mind

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

Yvonne Lyon – “Ashes & Gold”

yvonne ashes

Yvonne Lyon’s latest offering, Ashes & Gold, is a brilliant study of the paradoxes of life: the hopeful and the horrific, the light and the dark, the beauty and the difficulty. The songs themselves range from the light-hearted to the heart-breaking.

Though Yvonne admits to really struggling with this album, between writer’s block and the high expectations of producing something better than A Thousand Questions Why, that struggle is not apparent here.

The album opens with “Feel the Light,” one of two songs inspired by Yvonne’s trip to Cambodia earlier this year. Though she saw abject poverty so extreme that even the simplest things could make a huge difference, there was still a sense of contentment and happiness that pervaded their lives. That optimism shines through on this song and it sets the mood for the emotional journey the album brings us on.

The second song inspired by that visit is the album’s most heart-breaking. “The Reckoning” was written after her tour of Toul Sleng, a former interrogation center used by the Khmer Rouge now turned into a genocide museum. It’s a lament for the women who lost husbands, sons, fathers and brothers, some losing 5 or 6 family members. The stark arrangement, primarily piano and voice, is breathtakingly emotional.

At the other end of the spectrum is the very light-hearted “Tiny Things,” a song about the wonders of the world as seen through the eyes of her 2-year old niece. Equally light is “The Coffee Song,” about those days when curling up with a cup of coffee and a good book is the recipe for a perfect day.

Overall, there is a beautiful sense of depth and maturity to this album that really highlights Yvonne’s songwriting abilities. Ashes & Gold is best summed up by “All is Not Lost,” a song that reminds us that everything we experience, whether good or bad, goes into making life what it is and that none of those experiences are ever wasted.

Even though the album certainly has its dark and intense moments, there is still a sense of light that shines through to the end. The result is an uplifting affirmation of life, love and sense of self.   Ashes & Gold is an exquisitely crafted album destined to shine for a long time.

To visit Yvonne’s official website, click here.

To visit her MySpace page, click here.

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Singer-Songwriter | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Retro Look

As I’ve been doing some preliminary pondering of my Top 10 Albums of 2009 (which will be published at the end of the year), I realized that there were also a number of albums I heard for the first time this year but that were released prior to 2009. Some are more recent releases and some are rather old. A few of those albums really blew me away, so I’ve decided to give them a shout-out. After all, it’s never too late to discover “new” music!

This list is not in a particular order.

Archie McAllister – A Fiddler’s Tapestry. Ok, this first one is a bit of a trick. This actually was released in 2009 but it’s a compilation of older material, therefore I thought it better suited here. I hadn’t really listened to the west coast fiddling style before this and I quite like it. His slow airs made my mouth drop open.

Check out the tracks “Ossian” and “Lachlan Dubh”.

Gjermund Larsen Trio – Ankomst. Norwegian fiddler with a slow, sultry jazz style. Absolutely delicious! And it’s definitely chill music. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.

Check out the tracks “Midnattsdrøm” and “Regntung Dag”.

Rallion – For No-One and Everyone. I still can’t get enough of this album! This is their debut release. Marieke McBean’s voice is to die for and the fiddle work takes my breath away!

It’s really hard to narrow it down to a couple, but check out the tracks “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” and “Fisherman’s Wife”.

Fiona Driver – Orkney Fire. Very talented young fiddler from Orkney who is also a prolific tune writer. Of the various styles I’ve heard, this reminds me the most of America’s Appalachian music, which has its roots deep in Scottish music. It’s a gorgeous album!

Check out the tracks “Fidgarth Fiddles” and “Graham In A Tent”.

Synnøve Rognlien – Undr. Synnøve has created an Avant-garde, lush aural tapestry of song and sound. Gregorian chant sits side by side with jazz & electronica and the result is intoxicating!

Check out the tracks “Det Røde” and “Serk”.

Le Vent du Nord – Dans les airs. Until giving them a listen, I hadn’t realized how similar Quebecois music was to Breton music, especially with the call & response songs. This is a fantastic album full of hot instrumentals and great songs. High energy!

Check out the tracks “La Piastre Des États” and “Les Larmes Aux Yeux”.

Fridarey – Across The Waters. Lise Sinclair, a member of this family group, has a stunning voice and is the reason I got this album (she also has her own solo recording out).

Check out the tracks “Day Dawn” and “Wild White Swan”.

Whirligig – Celtic Dawn. This is the oldest album in the list, released back in 1995, but I’m still just as amazed by it. It’s early music meets Celtic music, with jazz elements thrown in for good measure. The recorder & fiddle work of Fiona & Jenny Cuthill is sublime!

Check out the tracks “Aisleag Ur” and “Roslin Castle” (one of my favorite arrangements of this tune).

Yvonne Lyon – Fearless. This is Yvonne’s second album, which was released a few years ago, and it is an excellent showcase of her exquisite songwriting skills. There’s something about this album, even in the darker, more emotionally intense songs, that is uplifting.

Check out the tracks “Come” and “Love”.

Gordon Gunn – Shoreside. He’s a recent find for me, thanks to a suggestion from a friend, but I was wowed from the get-go. His fast sets are amazing but his slow airs are divine! They stopped me in my tracks.

Check out the tracks “Orkney” and “Hogties Reel/Wooden Whale”.


All of these albums can be found either at Music in Scotland, Amazon, or iTunes.

September 22, 2009 Posted by | Avant-Garde, Celtic, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, Traditional | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Liv Runesdatter – “Syng Hjerte”

liv runesdatter

Syng Hjerte, by Liv Runesdatter, is the culmination of several years of studying obscure songs from a small pietistic laymen’s movement that formed in the eastern region of Norway during the mid-1800’s.  Liv’s voice throughout this recording is breathtakingly gorgeous and hymn-like.  The music, however, is more avant-garde, even bordering on atonal at times. The instruments used are Hardanger fiddle, accordion, sax, double bass, melodica and baglama, but rarely more than one or two instruments at a time or per song. Most of the arrangements are sparse, which serve to punctuate the instrumentation even more.

Syng Hjerte opens with the delicate “Nu Hviler Mark og Enge,” which layers Liv’s voice over subtle pizzicato of the fiddle. From there, it ventures into more worldly and adventurous territory. “Hos Gud Er Idel Glede” calls to mind the music of the Rom, with it’s dark fiddling and tones, while “Skal Vi Ustridig Hist,” featuring the melodica, is extremely experimental. The album closes with the meditatively sublime a cappella piece “Nu Solen Går Ned.” The standout tracks are the title track “Syng Hjerte, Syng en Aftensyng,” featuring the exquisite fiddling of Tuva Bolstad, and “So, Ro Snubberusken Min,” where Liv is backed solely by the baglama.

Syng Hjerte is both reverently soothing and exotically jarring, but well worth a listen.

To hear several tracks from this recording and learn more about this project, visit Liv’s MySpace page.

August 17, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Avant-Garde, Traditional | , , , , | Leave a comment

Eilean Mòr – “35 Degrees South”

eilean mor

To describe this Australian band in simple terms, you could say they are a Scots Trad fusion band, but there is nothing simple about their music or their debut recording. At the forefront is singer/songwriter Ruth Lee Martin, who sings in Gaelic and English. There are many talented Gaelic singers out there and  I think Ruth is one of the best outside of Scotland & Ireland. Joining Ruth are guitarist Bill Grose and double-bass player Bill Williams, along with newcomers Ed Rodrigues on percussion and Catherine Fraser, who is considered one of Australia’s finest Scottish fiddlers.

The majority of 35 Degrees South is traditional material, which includes rare Gaelic songs written by Scottish immigrants sent to Australia during the Highland Clearances.  Pieces like “Fac’ Thu Na Feidh” and “B’eoghainn” are suberbly executed. The instrumentalists have the chance to “stretch their legs” on two sets of invigorating tunes that make it impossible to sit still.  Added to the mix are three original songs penned by Ruth, delivered in a silky, jazz-tinged voice. The thing that sets this recording apart is that Eilean Mòr is not afraid to infuse the traditional music with jazz, blues, and other contemporary styles. “Can Ye Sew Cushions”  is a fantastic example of that marriage and is definitely the stand out track on this album.

To learn more about Eilean Mòr, visit their official website or their MySpace page.

August 17, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Traditional | , , , , , , | Leave a comment