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.

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

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

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

Rallion – “One For Sorrow”

rallion

Rallion’s sophomore release, One For Sorrow, is a dazzling display of musicality by the Scotland-based traditional folk quartet.  The members of Rallion are prolific performers and the skills honed on stages around the world shine on this recording. Featuring a mix of traditional songs and mostly original tunes, One For Sorrow has a deliciously exciting feel.

Marieke McBean’s rich alto marries perfectly with the material, whether conveying the dark humor of “The Astrologer,” the poignancy of “Lassie Lie Near Me,” or the good cheer of the Dutch drinking song “Wat Zullen We Drinken” (What Will We Drink). The instrumentation accompanying each song is truly splendid, creating an aural luxuriance that reaches the listener on all levels.

The crème de la crème of One For Sorrow, however, are the tunes, the majority composed by the group’s tunesmiths: Stevie Lawrence, Fiona Cuthill and Andrew Lyons. Not only are the compositions exquisite, their execution is phenomenal. All of the members of Rallion are multi-instrumentalists, lending an incredible depth and texture to each piece. The highlights are “Askival,” an energetic set of tunes by Andrew, “Fez,” an exotically flavored set by Fiona and Stevie, and, my personal favorite, “Waiting For Dawn,” a gorgeously evocative slow tune by Fiona.

One For Sorrow is a brilliant album that will leave you hungering for more.

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

August 16, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Folk, Traditional | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catherine Fraser, Duncan Smith – “Rhymes & Reasons”

catherine fraser

Frequently hailed as one of Australia’s finest Scottish fiddlers, Catherine Fraser shows why she’s earned that title on Rhymes & Reasons, her fourth album with pianist Duncan Smith. There is a certain exuberance, a joie de vivre coursing through each note and phrase that lifts this album into the extraordinary. Produced by Laura Risk and featuring guests Hanneke Cassel on fiddle, Tony McManus on guitar, Natalie Haas on cello and Eric Breton on percussion, Rhymes & Reasons is a spellbinding collection of traditional and contemporary slow airs, jigs, reels and strathspeys.

Though all of the tunes are worthy of mention, there are several exceptional tracks. “Rothiemurchus Rant/Calum Breugach/Donald McLeod’s Reel/Donald Don of Bohunting” features the rant played as a gorgeous slow air, then increases in tempo until the bow is flying over the strings with lightning speed by the end of the set. Catherine is equally expressive on two original slow airs: “The Kirrie Gem,”  which showcases the lyrical intertwining of Natalie Haas’ exquisite playing with Catherine’s, and “Dancing with George,”  a sweet, gentle tune written for her horse, King George IV.

“O Let Me In this Ae Night” is a delightful arrangement of two versions of the same tune; first as a slow air and then as a reel. The album closes with “Raoghull agus Cairistine,” an old Scots Gaelic tune given a very contemporary treatment, replete with bass synth, hand percussion and wisps of ethereal vocals. It’s a spectacular ending to a fantastic recording.

Rhymes & Reasons is definitely one of my top ten album choices for 2009.

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

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

Yvonne Lyon – Fearless

yvonne lyon fearless

Scottish singer-songwriter Yvonne Lyon left teaching to pursue a full-time career as a musician and that leap of faith has paid off on Fearless, her second full length recording.  Yvonne delivers her brilliantly-crafted songs in a gorgeous voice full of intimacy and emotion. The effect is soothing, heartwarming and inviting. While most of the album is in the acoustic/folk vein, Yvonne proves she’s able to rock out with numbers like “Subscribe” and “Mariana”.  An accomplished musician herself, she is joined by the likes of David Lyon, Chris Stout, Graeme Duffin and others to create the rich tapestry her songs are built upon.

On the surface, Yvonne’s lyrics are engaging and intimate, sweet and poignant.  Yet there is a deeper story here. Though her music is rarely labeled “Christian”, Yvonne is no stranger to the Christian music scene and her Faith-centered lyrics are just as welcome in the church as on the secular stage. “Mariana” is a lovely dedication to a woman able to maintain her faith in the face of hardship and grief.  In “Run To” there’s the realization that, even though we stumble and fall due to our own folly, God is still there. My personal favorites are the beautifully poignant “Come”, written for a loved one who has passed on, incorporating Matthew 11:28 as the chorus, and “Love”, a gorgeous song about the true definitions of love.

Fearless is an uplifting celebration of faith, love and peace and Yvonne’s heartfelt sincerity reaches deep into the listener.

To learn more about Yvonne, visit her official website or her MySpace page.

June 22, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Singer-Songwriter | , , , , | Leave a comment