Archive for the ‘Roots Music from Out There’ category

Chris Bromage & End of Empire: Man in a Minor Chord

July 16, 2017

Man in a Minor Chord is the second album by Chris Bromage and his End of Empire band. Singer-songwriter Bromage is from Leeds, England but also lived in Japan for several years and has been based in Canada since 2004. This release follows on from his debut End of Empire an album with a strong political edge.

The new album recorded in Vancouver has a broader agenda described as “a reflection on Trump, Brexit, love, the past and the insanity of the modern world” and Bromage sings and plays acoustic and electric guitars, piano and keyboards. On first listen there is nothing startlingly original about the standard musical line-up and song format but it soon becomes clear that it does work very well with “real” playing that harks back to an earlier analogue recorded sound.

The high quality of recording and production is matched by the songwriting which soon gets under the skin with its rhythms, unexpected changes and rich melodies. The ambitious seven minute opener ‘Belize’ focuses on the dichotomy between tourist paradise and the poverty, corruption and colonial legacy of the Central American country. It could easily have become overwrought but Bromage crucially understands having something to say doesn’t mean melody is neglected in favour of message. As he says, this is “lyrically driven misery you can dance to”.

One of the best tracks is ‘No Forty Acres There’s No Mule’ which touches on broken promises following the Civil War era in the USA. In contrast ‘Empty’ is at the same time about depression and a homage to Glasgow’s Postcard label and its pop bands. One of those, Orange Juice, is referred to again on the album’s best song ‘Tears in the Rain’ an irresistibly nostalgic look back with hindsight to time spent in Japan.

Chris Bromage has been many things in an eventful life including sports agent and entrepreneur. Three years ago he opted out of a conventional work life to concentrate on his music. Man in a Minor Chord deserves and will surely attain a wide audience and is solid evidence that he has made a good decision. It also sends a message that it’s never too late to change direction.

Man in a Minor Chord will be released on 11th August by CB Records.

http://www.numberonemusic.com/endofempire

Christine Primrose: Gràdh is Gonadh – Guth ag aithris

July 3, 2017

The full title of this new album by Christine Primrose is Gràdh is Gonadh – Guth ag aithris: Love and Loss – A Lone Voice and it contains eleven songs of unaccompanied traditional Scottish Gaelic sung by one of the great singers from Scotland who has travelled the world performing and teaching. There are also three bonus tracks chosen from earlier recordings.

It might seem a daunting task to sit down and listen for an hour to such sparse unaccompanied songs rendered in a language that will be unfamiliar to most people. However, if anyone is capable of dispelling our fears then it’s surely Christine Primrose whose long career includes being awarded Gaelic Singer of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2009. With these new recordings she is out there on her own with no safety net and that she so obviously succeeds is a great testament to her art.

If there are any parallels with Okinawa it is with some of the timeless unaccompanied songs sung and collected in the local communities of these islands –  particularly those of Yaeyama and Miyako – as well as in the many songs of hardship, emigration and exile.

Primrose focuses here on sad songs of love and loss, some very old, others by known composers. In one case she adds a melody of her own to some words by the poet William Campbell. The final song is by John McGregor (in English: ‘Island of Lewis, I Travelled Afar from You’) in which the singer reflects on his native island after a long time away. As Primrose writes in her notes, “Like McGregor, you may never return permanently but it’s always home.”

Christine Primrose was brought up in a Gaelic speaking culture on the Hebridean island of Lewis where she sang in her native language from a very young age. On this album she gives a master class in how to interpret these songs. There is nothing remotely flashy or showy on display. Instead, the emotions of each song are conveyed with subtlety, clarity and a quiet power.

The album booklet contains Primrose’s explanations in English of all the songs. Gràdh is Gonadh – Guth ag aithris: Love and Loss – A Lone Voice is released by Temple Records and is available directly from their website.

www.templerecords.co.uk

www.christineprimrose.com 

Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya

May 29, 2017

Malian singer Oumou Sangaré is one of the biggest stars in African music. She is also an icon for feminism and women’s rights in her country and her songs have challenged and cajoled on a number of social issues close to her heart. Now she returns to the recording studio with her first album since the magical Seya which was released all of eight years ago.

This is in many ways a very different album from its illustrious predecessors. Sangaré was previously with World Circuit but has changed record labels and is now with the French company No Format! The new album was recorded in Stockholm and Paris together with members of a Parisian music collective. This stripped back approach is heavy on rhythm giving this a more driving, direct and accessible sound than we’ve previously heard.

What has been achieved very well is the difficult balancing act between the rock guitars, keyboards and synths, and Sangaré’s powerful vocals and stylish presence and she is very much upfront throughout and always in control. Her music roots from the Wassoulou region are never far away either and instruments such as the traditional kamelengoni are present throughout. The female backing singers complementing the lead vocal are also an essential ingredient.

It’s a relatively short album at around 40 minutes (though my copy also contained a bonus remix track) but packs a considerable punch. Of the nine songs the upbeat ‘Djoukourou’ drives along superbly while ‘Kounkoun’ achieves the perfect blend of old and new. Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen features on ‘Yere Faga’ while ‘Minata Waraba’ is a tribute to Sangaré’s mother. The haunting title song ‘Mogoya’ (it means ‘people today’) is much slower with strings and guitar.

Mogoya is released by No Format!

www.noformat.net

Michael Chapman: 50

February 17, 2017

50 is a new release that marks half a century of touring and recording by England’s Yorkshire born singer, composer, and master guitarist Michael Chapman. It’s also the first time in his long career that he has recorded an entire album in America. For this he is joined by a small band of musicians including Steve Gunn (who also produced) and Nathan Bowles who plays drums, percussion, piano, organ and some excellent banjo.

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The gruff-voiced 76 year old Chapman revisits some of his earlier songs but also includes one or two new ones. The American influence has always been a strong presence in his work so there are no big surprises except for the simple and soon obvious fact that he sounds even better than before. The care and precision with which the other musicians play ensures a thrilling ride and one which is already being hailed as his late career masterwork.

Six years ago he released a double album of guitar instrumentals but this time the focus is entirely on the songs, all written by Chapman. His reworking of ‘The Mallard’ is delicately handled while at the other extreme the ‘The Prospector’ is an epic that almost enters Neil Young territory via Bob Dylan – except that it’s still very much Michael Chapman. There’s no-one quite like him and for this we can be grateful.

Michael Chapman 50 Recordign Session at Black Dirt. Photo By Constance Mensh

Michael Chapman 50 Recording Session at Black Dirt. Photo By Constance Mensh

‘Memphis in Winter’ is typically bleak while ‘Falling from Grace’ is another highlight. But the outstanding song is the album’s final track ‘That Time of Night’ which encompasses far more depth and emotion than its understated words would at first suggest. Going back to record past glories again isn’t always a good idea but in this case it seems somehow justified as the results bring out extra nuances and generally surpass the originals.

It’s as if Chapman has been heading here all his life and his time on the road and all his world weariness culminate among themes of travel, memory, mortality and redemption. 50 is a fine testament to his long-term achievement. The ten track album was recorded in New York and is released as a vinyl LP but is also available as a CD/download with two bonus tracks. He dedicates the album “to all those who didn’t make it this far”.

50 is released by Paradise of Bachelors.

www.paradiseofbachelors.com

50 album trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyLue1cpjbc

Anna & Elizabeth: Hop High/Here in the Vineyard

February 13, 2017

Appalachian influenced musicians Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle are great favourites of this blog and both of their albums were reviewed here previously. Hop High/Here in the Vineyard is their new release and it comes as a 7-inch vinyl single also available as a download. For these two traditional songs they are helped by producers Benjamin Laza Davis and Alec Spiegelman who are members of New York experimental pop band Cuddle Magic.

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On these songs the two young women stay true to their traditional roots but they also add something new by surrounding the songs with different musical elements. These involve the use of pump organ, woodwind, strings and electronics and there are banjo tunings inspired by Indonesian gamelan so that what begins as old-time music ends up moving towards the avant-garde. The unexpected results are very good indeed and it left this listener wanting more. It’s definitely a case of onwards and upwards for Anna & Elizabeth.

Hop High/Here in the Vineyard is released by Free Dirt Records.

www.annaandelizabeth.com

Fade to Blue

January 30, 2017

Fade to Blue is the name of a duo based in Taiwan and is also the title of their album. The project puts together two performers of musical traditions from different parts of the world and the album they have released is a live recording containing 14 tracks recorded on tour during 2015.

The members are pipa player Chung Yufeng who is from Taipei, and guitarist, singer and songwriter David Chen who was born in Ohio but has lived in Taiwan for many years since moving there to explore his familial roots. Their music mixes American folk and blues with traditional Chinese music but that’s only part of the story as they also touch on influences from other places as well as playing original songs and compositions.

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Those attending the Music Showcase at the Trans Asia Music Meeting in Okinawa earlier this month were able to see a live show by Fade to Blue who were one of two overseas acts invited to take part. They were very well received by the audience and the pair impressed everyone. These recordings are divided fairly equally between songs and instrumentals played on Chung’s pipa (a Chinese four-stringed instrument that gave rise to the related Japanese biwa) and Chen’s resonator and 12-string acoustic guitars.

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Among the songs are versions of Son House’s ‘Preachin’ Blues’ and Skip James’s ‘Devil Got My Woman’ while of special interest to listeners here will be Chen’s original ‘Okinawa Mama’. The instrumental pieces range from the traditional bluegrass and old-time ‘Blackberry Blossom’ to the Middle Eastern inspired ‘Siwa’ by Chung. The album ends with their title track ‘theme song’ inspired by Hawaiian slack key music.

This is a very enjoyable musical journey and the album is also very neatly packaged with explanatory notes on each track by David Chen and lyrics are included of all the songs in both English and Chinese. The result is not at all an academic exercise but instead exudes fun, adventure and great musicianship.

Fade to Blue is released by Trees Music & Art.

www.treesmusic.com

Laybricks: Take a Rest

January 26, 2017

Take a Rest is the debut EP from South Korean band Laybricks who are based in Seoul. In fact, the ‘band’ comprises just two members, singer/guitarist Kwangmin Seo and drummer Hyejin Yu. Their music draws more on contemporary British sounds than on their Korean roots and they claim to be inspired by alternative rock.

Since their formation in 2015 they have already played numerous live shows both in their home country and abroad. They were invited to the V-Rox Festival in Vladivostock last year and have also toured widely in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the UK playing several dates in front of massive festival crowds as well as small audiences at intimate venues.

laybricks

Most recently they came to Okinawa where they were invited by the ‘Music from Okinawa’ organisers to perform at the music showcase at the Trans Asia Music Meeting last week. The day before their show singer Kwangmin Seo gave a presentation at the meeting in which he spoke of their positive do-it-yourself attitude in going out and playing live and in arranging everything themselves for their tour of the UK.

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On the five tracks here, recorded in Seoul, Laybricks show off their versatility with a fine selection of original songs full of colourful, bright shiny melodies and catchy choruses. Even better was the live experience in Okinawa where they scored a big hit with the audience. In an adrenaline-fuelled set Kwangmin Seo’s vocals and guitar were matched all the way by the powerful drumming of Hyejin Yu who excelled with her immense energy and skill.

https://laybricks.bandcamp.com