Lori Gordon

Bletherings From a Music Obsessed Mind

Danny Kyle Favorites, week 2

The final week of the Danny Kyle Open Stage (as well as Celtic Connections itself) has passed and there were a few more stunning gems performing their hearts out. I recommend checking them all out – I think they all have fantastic careers ahead of them!

Fiona Driver – fantastic fiddler from Orkney who is also a very prolific composer.

Enez Trio [Tristan Le Govic] – Centered around Tristan’s harp playing, they have a full, rich sound.

Seonaid Aitkin – Amazing fiddler who spends most of her time as a classical violinist.

Rachel Sermanni – Really delightful singer/songwriter who performed with a couple of friends.

Parsec – These lads have mad skills! All hail from the University of Limerick.

Kilairum – This group came to my attention early last year. Their music is a blend of trad & jazz.

Lurach – Great trad group that performs Gaelic song & music.

Kirsty and Katie Lawrence – Incredible trad musicians from the Isle of Man. I found their stage presence refreshing and funny.

All of their performances can be found over on Celtic Music Radio in their “Listen Again” section.

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January 31, 2010 Posted by | Celtic, Folk, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, 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

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

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

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

Kim Edgar – “Wee Dote”

Kim Edgar Wee Dote

Wee Dote is the second EP released by Kim Edgar, issued a couple of years before her full-length butterflies and broken glass album. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the musical journey she has taken over the years.

The lyrics on Wee Dote are dead brilliant. Whether autobiographical or not, there is a feeling of intimate honesty that draws the listener into each song. They tell stories of love and uncertainty and disappointment and longing. “Thaw,” the song that won her a spot in the Burnsong Songhouse project, is a beautiful love song, but the shining stars are the  emotionally grittier songs “Shelf,” “Wee Dote,” and “Tucked In My Pocket”.

Musically, it’s quite different from her third recording.  Whereas on butterflies the music is an integral part of each story, that is not the case on Wee Dote. Here, the music almost seems to be its own entity; sometimes it supports the vocals, but other times it clashes, threatening to overwhelm them. Kim also sings in an American accent, which, combined with the jazz stylings, give the tracks a glossiness that is not entirely comfortable. However, her voice still retains its crystalline beauty and the genius of the lyrics easily negates such distractions.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with Wee Dote. If you’re a fan of smart, gritty lyrics, definitely give this a listen.

Visit Kim on MySpace or her official website.

To read a review of Kim Edgar’s “butterflies and broken glass”, click here.

April 10, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Singer-Songwriter | , , , , | Leave a comment

Elisabeth Vatn – “Piper On The Roof”

Elisabeth VatnPiper On The Roof is the recent release by Norway’s Elisabeth Vatn, a bagpiper who specializes in the Swedish bagpipes. Even though I had listened to some of the tracks on her website prior to getting the album, Piper still caught me quite by surprise.

While some of the pieces may be based on traditional or classical works, they’ve been turned inside out and given a totally contemporary treatment. It’s jazz, new age, blues, and electronica all rolled into an avant-garde package. This is an album that needs to be listened to more than once to hear all of the layers. There are a few pieces, such as Fanfare, Bagging, and Pipes of Peace, where Vatn’s piping is the focal point. However, there are just as many other numbers (Springlek After Troskari Erik, Noor/Bjørka, and the 7-minute space odyssey Reed Poetics) where the pipes weave in and out and become part of the sonic fabric. Piper features three fully vocal tracks, the most startling of which is Danny Du (the well-known “Danny Boy” sung in Norwegian). Even though it’s given the same modern treatment as the other pieces, it still seems out of place.

My favorite pieces on this album are Bagging, with it’s Bolero-esque riffs, and the trance-inducing chanting of Noor/Bjørka, though I also enjoy the vocals on Visa Från Utanmyra-Dusse Oktii. Piper On The Roof is a rather seductive walk on the wild side and one I enjoy taking more and more often.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Avant-Garde | , , , , , | Leave a comment