Lori Gordon

Bletherings From a Music Obsessed Mind

Best of Danny Kyle 2013, week 2

Another year of the Danny Kyle Open Stage competition has come to an end. All that’s left are for the 6 winners to be announced and the “winners concert” tomorrow night. There was a strong showing of musicians from Orkney this year; all of them ended up on my favorites lists. For such a small island, they have an amazing music culture up there. Once again, I would like to thank the folks at Celtic Music Radio for broadcasting the Danny Kyles. CMR is one of the finest sources of folk and traditional music I’ve come across and it’s run entirely by volunteers.

Here are my Week 2 favorites, in chronological order:

Reely Jiggered – A trad trio from Gourock. Their fiddler, Alison McNeill, left me speechless. As soon as their set finished, I tracked down their debut CD. You can listen to their set here.

The Scott Wood Trio – A very sharp, incredibly talented band with lots of pipes & fiddling. Their EP is just as fantastic. Check out their set here.

Genesee – A singer/songwriter with a gorgeous bluesy voice. Reminds me a lot of blues & gospel singer Ruthie Foster. You can hear her set here.

The Linzi Murphy Band – Linzi is a young trad/folk singer from Neilston. The band has only been together for a few months but they have a beautifully polished sound. Listen to their set here.

Hannah Graham and Josh McGregor – Fiddle/guitar duo originally from Orkney. Exquisite playing!  You can listen to it here.

Graham Low & Jack Kirkpatrick – A young trad duo from Orkney. Absolutely brilliant fiddling. They both have incredible futures ahead of them. You can hear their set here.

Zoë Bestel – When I first read that she was a ukelele player, I almost wrote her off. I’m glad I didn’t. This 15 year old singer/songwriter/ukelele player has more brilliance and talent than many twice her age. I was blown away. Listen to her set here.

Do yourself a favor and check out all of these performers. It’s so rewarding to come across new artists and watch them grow and evolve into even more amazing musicians. Cheers to another successful Danny Kyle!

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February 1, 2013 Posted by | Celtic, Folk, Music Styles, Singer-Songwriter, Traditional | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best of Danny Kyle Open Stage 2013, week 1

Every year, I look forward to the Danny Kyle Open Stage competition that takes place during Celtic Connections in Glasgow. It’s a fantastic opportunity, not just for up & coming artists to gain wide exposure, but to hear some amazing musicians that I might otherwise miss. My music collection has grown substantially over the years, thanks to the Danny Kyles. Of course, I have to give a huge Thank You to the folks at Celtic Music Radio, who make it possible for me to listen to the Danny Kyle from 3,000+ miles away.

After last year’s stellar DK, I wasn’t sure that this year could match it. I needn’t have worried. The caliber of performances is even higher.  I listen to a lot of traditional and “new trad” music, so in order to catch my fancy, the music has to be top-notch. Of the 13 groups that I adored from this first week, 11 of them are trad.

Here are my favorites, listed more or less in chronological order:

Matt Tighe – A young fiddler from London who plays in an Irish style. A lot of talent in this lad. You can listen to his set here.

Halina Romaniszyn & Aidan Morrison – A trad duo from Orkney. Absolutely brilliant! You can hear their set here.

Neusa – A refreshing group of students from Glasgow. You can listen to their set here.

Gria – A brand new group, hailing mostly from the Islands, performing their first gig. I can’t wait to hear more! Their set is here.

Kat Healy – A lovely singer/songwriter from Edinburgh. I’ve already added her CD to my collection. Listen to her set here.

The Jellyman’s Daughter – Great name, great duo from Edinburgh. They remind me of  The Civil Wars. You can hear their set here.

The Mhairi Marwick Band – Amazing! One of my top favorites. I hope there’s an album in their future soon. You can listen to their set here.

Charlie Grey & Pablo Lafuente – A fiddle/guitar duo from Plockton. These lads have a bright future ahead of them. Listen to their set here.

Malcolm Bushby – Tasmanian fiddler who was also on the Danny Kyles last year. I loved him last year and love him just as much this year. His music is truly sublime. Give his set a listen here.

Askolenn – A stunning Breton band. If you’re not familiar with Breton music, listen without haste to their set here!

Shona Brown – Delightfully surprising flute player and singer from Motherwell. Fantastic integration of styles. Give her a listen here.

Cairngorm Ceilidh Trail – Unbelievably talented group from the Highlands. I’ll be surprised if they’re not one of the winners. You can hear their set here.

Mulk – A trio of lads who play a crazy and amazing fusion of styles. Their set was jaw-dropping. You can listen to it here.

January 26, 2013 Posted by | Celtic, Country, Folk, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, Traditional | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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.

January 31, 2010 Posted by | Celtic, Folk, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, Traditional | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danny Kyle Open Stage, week 1

The first full week of Celtic Connections has come and gone and with it, the first week of the Danny Kyle Open Stage. The wonderful folks at Celtic Music Radio provide the live broadcast each day (5pm BST/11am CST), which I’ve made an effort to listen to, as well as a recording of each act’s set in their ‘Listen Again’ archive.

In the first week, I’ve heard 8 acts that have totally blown me away. I think they’re all fabulously talented and I’m excited to watch their careers grow. They all have MySpace pages, where you can hear some samples, or head over to Celtic Music Radio to hear their live gigs.


The Helen Currie Band – singer/songwriter whose songs have an understated intensity about them

Elaine Davidson – singer/songwriter with a gorgeous alto voice. Accompanied on the live gig by Danny Hart

Eilidh Patterson – another singer/songwriter who is altogether lovely

The Bevvy Sisters – Fantastic swing/gospel vocals!

Tyde – great trad music trio

Sporran Again – funky, electric ceilidh band that is wild fun!

Stushie – very talented group of youngsters. Mostly trad but some contemporary.

4 Square – folk band with great vocals and spot-on playing


January 23, 2010 Posted by | Celtic, Folk, 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

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

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