folk . americana . blues . rock&roll

WEEK STARTING 24 May

Genre pick of the week Cover of Constellation by Caoilfhionn Rose.

Caoilfhionn Rose

Constellation

    With her third Gondwana album, ‘Constellation’, Manchester’s Caoilfhionn Rose has come of age as an artist, digging deep to find experimental new ways of expressing her wonder at nature’s beauty, her love of music in all its diversity, and her belief in the restorative powers that both afford in the troubled post-COVID world. Vigorous, searching and ever-curious, Caoilfhionn (say ‘Keelin’) has found a voice at once ancient and modern, intrepidly exploring contemporary technology to transform traditional songcraft for the mid 2020’s.

    The ten tracks on ‘Constellation’ feel rooted in a knowledge of folk, jazz and all the twentieth century’s classic tunesmiths, and yet they seem to create a magical, otherworldly space of her own imagining, blending Caoilfhionn’s core piano with synths, and pitting a live rhythm section and saxophone embellishments against ambient samples and future-facing production techniques.

    Confident, exploratory and often jaw-droppingly sublime, this incredible album properly announces Caoilfhionn Rose’s arrival as a fresh creative force for 2024.

    Caoilfhionn has always pursued music with a fierce commitment. When a period of illness in her late teens caused a delay in starting a Music degree at Newcastle University she used the time constructively. She took a diploma in Music Production and Audio Engineering at Manchester MIDI School (Now School of Electronic Music), which leant heavily towards electronic music, imbuing her with a progressive outlook towards sound manipulation. Later studying music at university in Newcastle, she’d make sound experiments and field recordings, posting tracks online under the alias Audrey Daydreamer, and eventually an EP, under her own name. That was how I got involved with Gondwana,” she explains, “because Matthew [Halsall, label boss] heard the EP, and he came to see me play at a café called The Art of Tea, and asked if I’d like to record for Gondwana.”

    ‘Constellation’ features contributions from Halsall’s rhythm section, drummer Alan Taylor and bassist Gavin Barras, as well as Jordan Smart from Mammal Hands, whose supple sax exquisitely colours the fringes of most of its songs. Also guesting: John Ellis, former member of The Cinematic Orchestra, beatifically tinkling the ivories at the end of ‘Fall Into Place’, and producer Aaron Wood via a raft of ambient samples adding textured loveliness throughout ‘Rainfall’.

    “I love being open to collaboration,” Rose enthuses, “and the record’s a collage, knitting together all these influences, sounds and players, and just really going for it with the experimentation in the production.”

    Constellation’ sees her broaden the range of her singing, from the pure natural expression of her earlier records, to using it more as an instrument, sometimes more as abstract sound than as conventional verbal delivery. “It’s all playful and experimental,” she summarizes, “seeing what we could come up with that’s imaginative.” And she has learnt to use “her artistic license just to let the words be as they are”, to write in a momentary, impressionistic, almost painterly way. One example was how the word ‘constellation’ just fell into her head – “like, out of the cosmos” – while recording that song, so in it went. It also seemed emblematic of many aspects of the album – the theme of connectedness, her little cluster of Gondwana family musicians, and a pervasive feel of stargazing awe in the music. It obviously made a fitting album title, too.

    And so, Caoilfhionn Rose’s collage of differing influences and inspirations, players and processes, cohered into a miraculous and quietly powerful body of work, which stands as a testament to artistic adventure, to both improvisation and hard work, to trusting our connection to nature, other people and music itself. As such, ‘Constellation’ surely deserves to put her on a much bigger stage by the year’s end.


    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Constellation is a work of perfectly paced, beautifully organic ambient jazz and soaring ethereal vocals, absolutely rocketing Caoilfhionn rose to the top of my year end list thus far. It's the perfect album for playing in the hazy summer heat, or by the fire with a book. Stunning.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Constellation
    2. Wandering Mind
    3. Momentary
    4. Josephine
    5. Rainfall
    6. Simple
    7. Fall Into Place
    8. Into Sky
    9. Drifting Dust
    10. A Light In The Middle

    Beth Gibbons

    Lives Outgrown

      Beth Gibbons releases her debut solo album Lives Outgrown on Friday the 17th of May 2024. Featuring 10 beautiful new songs recorded over a period of 10 years, the album was produced by James Ford & Beth Gibbons with additional production by Lee Harris (Talk Talk).

      Lives Outgrown is, by some measure, Beth’s most personal work to date, the result of a period of sustained reflection and change — “lots of goodbyes,” in Beth’s words. Farewells to family, to friends, even to her former self. These are songs from the mid-course of life, when looking ahead no longer yields what it used to, and looking back has a sudden, sharper focus.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: A stunning selection of downbeat-infused instrumentals, woozy psychedelic folk and Gibbons' unmistakeably emotive vocal prowess. It's brilliantly composed, deeply personal and impeccably sequenced. It's a big relief honestly, because this further cements Gibbons as a musical legend in her own right.

      TRACK LISTING

      1. Tell Me Who You Are Today   
      2. Floating On A Moment        
      3. Burden Of Life        
      4. Lost Changes          
      5. Rewind
      6. Reaching Out          
      7. Oceans          
      8. For Sale        
      9. Beyond The Sun  
      10. Whispering Love 

      Sean Khan Presents The Modern Folk & Jazz Ensemble

      Sean Khan Presents The Modern Folk & Jazz Ensemble

        Saxophone master Sean Khan presents a brand new album project on Acid Jazz - The Modern Folk & Jazz Ensemble. The album explores the sounds of the late-’60s/early-’70s folk revival, recast and reimagined in a jazz setting with featured guest singers, including compositions by Pentangle, Sandy Denny, John Martyn and Nick Drake.

        Featured vocalists are the legendary Pentangle lead singer Jacqui McShee, acclaimed singer-guitarist Rosie Taylor-Frater, and emerging artist Kindelan. Sean Khan meanwhile is known as one of the UK’s premier saxophonists, and particularly his ‘Supreme Love: A Journey Through Coltrane’ LP. His distinctive Soprano playing can be heard throughout.

        Presented in a beautiful, evocative sleeve and inner-sleeve layout on LP and gatefold-style CD.

        STAFF COMMENTS

        Matt says: A beautifully rich and organic amalgamation of jazz and folk. Your ears will be justifiably piqued by the cover of "Solid Air" and "Things Behind the Sun" before realizing there's some special chemistry at work here.

        TRACK LISTING

        1. She Moves Through The Fair
        2. Solid Air
        3. Light Flight
        4. Parasite
        5. Things Behind The Sun
        6. Who Knows Where The Time Goes
        7. I’ve Got A Feeling
        8. Ode To Nick Drake

        Bill MacKay

        Locust Land

          Rolling and tumbling in his own sweet way, guitarist Bill MacKay discovers a territory all his own - 'Locust Land'. New vistas abound, Bill adds a measure of keyboard playing to his picking mastery, sings a few more, and, a devout and ceaseless collaborator, features a few other players (Sam Wagster, Mikel Patrick Avery and Janet Beveridge Bean). Whether played solo or with companions, Bill’s music projects the strength of the universal collective.

          TRACK LISTING

          1. Phantasmic Fairy
          2. Keeping In Time
          3. Glow Drift
          4. Half Of You
          5. Oh Pearl
          6. Radiator
          7. When I Was Here
          8. Neil’s Field
          9. Locust Land

          Laura J Martin

          Prepared

            Following the release of her 2016 album On The Never, Never, Martin knew that she wanted to take a break from writing and recording music. She moved back to Liverpool, from London, and began an apprenticeship with world renowned flute maker Willy Simmons.

            “I was now looking at an instrument I’d been playing all my life at a molecular level. The discipline and repetitiveness of learning a craft freed my mind from thinking about songs for a bit and made me focus instead on some of the toxic chemicals and blow torches used to make the flutes,” she says. “I’ve never been a particularly mindful person; I’m usually zipping from one thing to the next and this work had a pace of its own which I had to submit to. As well as making flutes, I was also repairing them, and this was the part I most enjoyed – the process of renewal. In a corny way, I experienced this renewal myself.”

            Following this period, Martin felt inspired to make music again and began setting up her own home studio. “Around this time, I’d started to listen to Joanna Brouk and the I am the Center compilation of early New Age music on Numero Group. This music was nothing like my own but seemed to extend from the Harmonia records I love and exist outside of the album, gig, tour regime. It was so inspiring and freeing, and I tentatively began to experiment in the studio, with the textures of Brouk’s song ‘Maggi’s Flute’ in mind.”

            Working closely with co-producer Iwan Morgan (Euros Childs, Cate Le Bon, Gruff Rhys, Georgia Ruth), the pair found themselves drawn to drum machines that wouldn’t stay in time, and a piano with a tuning mind of its own. “I rediscovered the sense of play which brought me into music in the first place,” says Martin. “The palette was infinite and without boundaries. Where my previous records had always operated within the instinct / lack of budget axis, I now had the possibility to sculpt sound, to remake, blend and remodel it for the first time.”

            Living next to the main 86 bus route into Liverpool City Centre prompted the idea behind ‘Outside at Night’, of parallel lives on different journeys. ’Three Days’ mines a similar theme but focuses on the hidden lives we share with others, the shift workers paradox. “It asks, do we really know what happens to our closest people when they leave the house?” explains Martin.

            Album opener ‘Prepared’ is a hymn to self-reliance but not to perfection, to working your own routes and abandoning the tape measure. In part it’s about looking back at ways you judged yourself in past encounters and not recognising yourself: “I turned away again, was I even there?”. Tied in counterpoint to this, closing track ‘Open Door’ works as a prism through which to view the album (copious drum machines, swelling synths). It’s also as an answer of sorts to Martin’s search - new possibilities rage from cascading melodic and atmospheric structures, reaching some kind of midway between Harmonia’s ‘Deluxe’ and the polyrhythms of Francis Bebey’s Psychedelic Sanza.

            Across the record there are vocal and sonic contributions from co-producer Iwan Morgan. “Iwan maintains he’s not a musician but kept singing in the studio and eventually I managed to persuade him to put it on record,” says Martin. ’Living on the Wall’ is the clearest example of this, exuberant monster truck beats, insistent pianos and vocals delivered without irony, think Wrong Way Up era John Cale and Brian Eno meets YMOs ‘Firecracker’.

            Collaborative sojourns to Marco Rea's The Barne studio in Clydebank and Mike Lindsay (Tunng, LUMP) in Margate allowed Martin to coax standout contributions from both, shaping the album as both artist and co-producer. The result is a unique fusion of folk, electronic, and experimental pop music that defies expectations and challenges the boundaries of contemporary music.

            “In a twisting but circuitous way, Prepared is my composted scrapbook of the last couple of years. I was prepared to follow where the sounds took me, the sonic train left the station and led me on its merry way,” she says. “It’s not an album about flute repairing but it wouldn’t have happened without learning the discipline of preparedness, the small movement, the tweak and the renewal from Willy Simmons.”

            TRACK LISTING

            1. Prepared
            2. Counting Time
            3. Living On The Wall (feat. Iwan Morgan)
            4. A Better Story
            5. Three Days
            6. Outside At Night
            7. The Dials
            8. Magic Mornings
            9. Open Door

            Adam Ross

            Littoral Zone

              The second solo album by Adam Ross - a musician described by Folk Radio as "one of Scotland’s most talented singers and songwriters".

              The album is produced by multiple Scottish Album Of The Year Award nominated composer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Wasylyk and released on London record label Fika Recordings. Arts bodies Creative Scotland and Help Musicians have supported and funded the album in recognition of what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting musical collaborations of 2024.

              The album is a heavily lyrical collection of warped 70s-esque indie-folk ballads inspired by Adam’s relocation to the coast. The title, Littoral Zone, is a term used to define where the sea meets the land but also a nod to a style of direct, literary observations about the people, landscapes and states of mind Adam has discovered since moving there. The lyrics cover themes of nature, politics, faith, love and death and are surrounded by Andrew’s deft production featuring luscious string ensembles and brass.

              The writing of the album saw Adam move away from guitar and onto piano, having bought a slightly battered upright piano from a local antiques warehouse as a first priority after moving house in 2021. Chords, melodies and musical ideas were recorded on Adam's phone before lyrics were slowly built up during his walks on the beach and clifftops around the village of St Cyrus where he now lives.

              Songs like Free Will and Union Gary chart and exaggerate the at-times ridiculous minutiae of day-to-day life, with the latter musing on British foreign policy via the prism of an unkempt garden. The Going and I Get It Wrong pay tribute to the natural beauty and mystery of coastal landscapes while Brambles falls into the musical tradition of the murder ballad, with a story loosely based on an amalgamation of true events. The album's darker edges can also be discovered in Shrinking and Ego which dwell on aging and self-doubt, however Apogee looks to counterbalance such themes with a pure outpouring of love.

              The album sees Adam at his most musically ambitious and precise. In contrast to his more lo-fi and DIY previous work, Littoral Zone is a painstakingly crafted record which celebrates collaboration. Andrew Wasylyk's production and multi-instrumentalist performances bring sonic sophistication which is further heightened by Pete Harvey's heart-stirring string arrangements. Gillian Fleetwood's yearning vocals are a constant highlight throughout the album, as is Rachel Simpson's exquisite brass playing. Ultimately, Littoral Zone is an album of stories and Adam's lyrical knack shines throughout.

              Adam Ross is a songwriter based in north-east Scotland. He has led the cult indie band Randolph's Leap for over a decade, releasing music with independent labels Fika Recordings, Olive Grove Records and King Creosote and Pictish Trail’s Fence Records and Lost Map Records. He released his debut solo album 'Staring At Mountains' in 2022. He is known for his intricate, storytelling lyrical style which often blends humour and poignancy.

              May 2024 will see the release of a brand-new solo album produced by multiple Scottish Album Of The Year Award nominated composer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Wasylyk and released on London label Fika Recordings. Arts bodies Creative Scotland and Help Musicians have supported and funded the album in recognition of what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting musical collaborations of 2024.

              Adam has a track record of playing at venues and festivals across the country such as Green Man, Celtic Connections, Belladrum and The Edinburgh Fringe. His reputation as an engaging, witty, storytelling performer was further cemented by his role in ‘The Isle of Love’, a country-wide touring theatre show inspired by his songs.

              His music has received regular airplay on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC 6 Music including various singles and albums of the week. He has also received excellent press in newspapers such as The Herald and The Scotsman.

              TRACK LISTING

              A1. Free Will
              A2. Apogee
              A3. Shrinking
              A4. Caught The Sun
              A5. Ego
              B1. Union Gary
              B2. I Get It Wrong
              B3. Life Is Not A Competition
              B4. Brambles
              B5. The Going

              Rowena Wise

              Senseless Acts Of Beauty

                Written after a relationship’s end, Rowena Wise’s Senseless Acts of Beauty is a stunning and searingly honest record.

                A new yet accomplished artist, Rowena grew up in the Western Australian surf town of Margaret River perfoming in her family’s folk band. Now grown up and living in Melbourne, her electric solo live performances of recent years has seen a real word of mouth build around her.

                A songwriter inspired by the strong storytelling sensibilities of 60s folk icons, Senseless Acts of Beauty delivers on the promise hinted at by her live show. Full of emotional depth, its ten tracks offer heady ruminations on love, loss, and alienation. And by electing to record them all live in the room, often in one take, the kinks and blemishes add weight to the lived experience of Rowena’s lyrics.

                TRACK LISTING

                A1. In For The Kill
                A2. Nobody’s Saviour
                A3. 26 Hours
                A4. Forgiving Up
                A5. Indifferent
                B1. Life Of The Party
                B2. New Years
                B3. Knife
                B4. We Are Nothing
                B5. Gone


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