The Cher to Secretly Canadian's dour Scots folk Sonny, Alasdair Roberts, this disc by Nottingham, England duo Scout Niblett, real names Emma Niblett guitar/vocals and Kristian Goddard drums, is quite simply astonishing. The fact that it has taken such a circuitous route to reach us perhaps reveals more about the lack of adventure of British labels than a lack of home-grown talent. Is it folk? Well was Polly Harvey's first blues? It deals in similar stripped down musical forms. Her quite beautiful voice skips about like a malevolent elf then screams like a distraught blues singer. The lyrics are a surreal delight and at a time when songwriters are quite capable of rewriting the same idea from workshop to stage their weirdness is like a cold shower...refreshing. "We have it all, but I miss my lion". What she's on about I haven't a clue but it sounds great. On Into she swaps electric guitar for acoustic and simply sings the word into over and over and it's compelling as tinkerbell sounds sprinkle behind. It comes from the Will Oldham / post rock side of the road but her voice feels like a kind of deranged Anne Briggs / Sandy Denny. Therefore it does have this abiding deep-seated Englishness even when a mock-cabaret tone intrudes as on Dance of Sulphur. Wet is strummed acoustic guitar and a heartbreaking meditation on lost love? "Wet roads on the way to your house again." East Midlands folk-blues siren? Sort of. If you believed in categorisation then no this isn't in the folk tradition, it's too skewed, too weird but then isn't Pink Moon. Cherish this lady now but remember she kicks up a hell of a racket live covering that well known folk band Nirvana. Their unplugged version of In The Pines is in my top ten folk moments…. so is Ms. Niblett.
SDB ( This review was declined by the BBC because they are lacking in imagination...)

Published in Bucketfull of Brains #61 Summer 2002
Secretly Canadian 60

An indie record label called Secretly Canadian situated in Bloomington, Indiana is not the first place you'd expect to come across one of the best contemporary take on our traditional folk heritage. It's a curious route that Alasdair Roberts has taken from his home in Glasgow to this his first solo disc. He is lead singer with Scottish indie band Appendix Out who released two acclaimed cds on the Drag City label after teaming up with Will Oldham of Palace Brothers etc. These were more in the Palace Brothers vein but on this disc the focus has moved on to a more naked voice/guitar presentation. We're not talking a solo spot at Sidmouth or new folk nominee just yet though. Not many artists on the folk scene would include a quote from Roland Barthes on their press release. Having said that the rendering of the tunes are incredibly faithful to the idea of the folk process if not to the archival exactitude it pedantically thrives on. He admits to changing locations and even the tune, as on the rewriting of Bogie's Bonnie Bell, and yet the dour, rough feel of his voice and the sincere love of these songs as a continuing narrative tradition make it a very coherent collection. Songs include Lord Gregory, Lowlands, The False Bride amongst others and he expresses his debt to the recorded versions he learnt from on the sleeve. He stakes his place in a revivalist scheme of things as he reveals that he took the versions from Shirley Collins, Dick Gaughan, Anne Briggs etc. a role call of the very best. To me these versions have more truth and real connection to the dark source of these songs for variation, not exactitude, is what oral culture thrives upon. In fact I'd rate this alongside Waterson, Carthy, Gaughan and all and swap it for a Cropredy ticket any day. A british traditional anti-folk hero? Definite maybe.

also published in Bucketfull of Brains #61 Summer 2002
Secretly Canadian SC48
A self-release that shows there are diamonds to be found in the mountains of self-made material. Cicero Buck is not an amateur effort and singer Kris Wilkinson and Joe Hughes are not beginners. Kris has served time in college bands stateside and Joe was a half of eighties band The Lover Speaks and wrote a hit for Annie Lennox. Since 2000 they've operated as a duo and very good they are too. They are on the pop/a.o.r side of folk with the nearest British equivalent being Mark Nevin and Eddie Reader post- Fairground Attraction . What they have in abundance is song-writing ability and once heard the title track Delicate Shades of Grey really stays with the listener. But it is just one of many outstanding songs which are beautifully sung by Wilkinson. The UK production sparkles too and right from opener Lullaby the listener knows they are in classy company. Without wanting to burden Wilkinson with comparisons I'd say that up against Eddie Reader and Annie Lennox she'd stand her ground well. One of the most refreshing things about this disc is that although her writing is obviously grounded in the Mary Chapin Carpenter Americana school Hughes brings a much needed pop ambition with all manner of strings and effects that really work. An Americana Eurythmics? ……things could be worse. Delicate Shades of Grey is beautiful - bringing to mind Laura Nyro, Bobbie Gentry and even Dolly Parton /Porter Wagoner. Yes it's fantastic. If this self-release doesn't push them to a major deal I'll eat my Stetson. It's crossover stuff but nothing wrong with that when this refined. If it wasn't enough for the title track to be on my year-end top ten they also show their diversity with rock-pop - Weather, Americana - Fencepost ( ghost of Carole King floats around this one), solo acoustic balladry -Your Voice…..and that's only half the disc. Knockout punch is the Wichita Lineman intro to Beautiful Daydreamer…these people sure know their country and pop music. Holdin' Hands is pure stax/southern fried and there isn't a duff track in the first nine that ends with the haunting story song Trudy. Three bonus tracks are added on but really the jobs already been done. Best pop/folk/country record I've heard for a very long time. Amongst the bonus tracks the standout is the infectious Happy Ever After - remixed and co-written with U.S. DJ Liquid Todd…..and could be another hit it's that good…is that folk….who gives a….it's a class act. Catch them live before they crossover big time. Sometimes people can't see the wood for the trees even when it's in their own backyard.

Better than the Be Good Tanyas by a country mile.
Super Tiny Records 2002

We live in an era of over-production. The more technology, the more waste and musical artists are as guilty as most. The production of CD's is approaching the billions worldwide as the twin incentive of cheaper production and digital access encourages everybody who ever strummed a guitar to record it for posterity. In a minority of cases this is a good thing. Three savvy art background Canadians came out with a disc on their own label in 2000 and immediately received encouragement to continue via festivals and reviews. It is now released here. The disc was ironically, considering it's digital production, steeped in pre-war folk and blues mythology. Their clothes were thrift store chic a la Gillian Welch School of carefully groomed poverty - Diane Arbus crossed with James Agee. So heroin chic sells clothes why not poverty chic to sell records. With Welch and Rawlings it wouldn't really matter if they were both dressed as Mr. Blobby when you have a degree in music from Berkeley you've got substance. When you're faced with people of note but obviously not in that league it starts to matter. I don't dislike the Be Goods..for they could well be. But this disc is something of a clever construct. It affects a knowledge of past music by covering very obvious songs e.g. Lakes of Pontchartrain which have been done better by the likes of Paul Brady, Nanci Griffiths, Peter Case etc etc.
This is Songbook skimming. Taking the posture and look of an era and making it stand as reality instead of the confection it obviously is. Would the Roches or McGarrigles in their day have dressed up in a vision of the past? On their first discs..look at them - they didn't, they didn't have to. As a record of a real group 'Blue Horse' is premature. A mistake of many an artist these days. Made the disc, got the look and hey here's a website and the marketing starts. It's a tribute to the power of good management. They say you can't judge a book by its cover but in this case you can. It's a pleasant blue-tinged evocation of the past, a sepia take on reality, but bolstered by an extra pair of lungs and a good rhythm section these 'orphan girls' are probably getting as much attention for their gender and opportune timing as for the genuine musical contents. The singing is on a par with the Freakwater discs, which it has to be said did the same job with less attention and more real song-writing. The writing here is borderline average nothing more. If you're looking for this kind of music where the horse really bites try Eleni Mandell or even the recent discs of Scout Niblett and Alasdair Roberts. Oh and they'll soon be on EMI - the new canadian Corrs.......

this review didn't appear on the BBC site... a little too much opinion
BGT9605 Nettwerk 5 037703 024526
Clive Gregson in a parallel universe, where there was no Richard Thompson or Martin Carthy, may well have been taken a lot more seriously in folk circles. There was always something not quite up to pace about his former group 'Any Trouble' that ensured that they came to wear the cloak of 'seminal' and 'worthy' or in other words they were good but didn't fit the times. Four ordinary blokes in suits and skinny ties didn't harm The Smithereens though but then the Smithereens were American…fast forward and we have The Strokes…the more things change the more.. Funny how a ordinary bloke from up north doing exactly what the Beatles did should not be as 'folky' as a couple of middle class sons of the revival. There again who said life was fair. So twenty years on and some classic recordings with former partner Christine Collister and a long hard haul up the credibility ratings by the honest musicians route - tour and tour, especially Stateside and Mr.Gregson is knocking on the door again. Indeed in the U.S. his standing is not far behind the above mentioned 'folk' artists. Maybe it's the sense of distance that shows things as they truly are. This is his fourth post Any Trouble cd not counting his Plainsong , Nanci Griffiths and Thompson band diversions. In best cottage industry style the booklet opens with a panorama of the workman and his tools. It also establishes that Mr. G. is not a Man City fan. A Mancunian by birth this disc is solid but not quite a Cantona - more a Neville Brothers ( the players not the group). Dependable, sturdy but lacking that shiver down the back brilliance that sets Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson on their pedestals. His musical credentials are unmistakeable. The fingerpicking intro. to 'It's you I want to hold', the craft and playing evident throughout but how the heart yearns for the 'otherness' that Collister's voice brought to proceedings. The overall feel is pure pop and herein lies the reason that he doesn't get the folk reverence he perhaps deserves. His heart is buried on a beach somewhere just after Revolver and before English Psychedelia went through its silly phase. In fact it is Robyn Hitchcock and Roy Harper that he should be compared to rather than the folk divas. Therein lies his dilemma as I'm sure he is as knowing of the folk tradition as the next man but aside from some pretty obvious in 'Catholic Girl' he stays on the folk-rock side of the fence. So there you have it. A worthy English songwriter not afraid to glory in his own past e.g. 'Riding on a bus' or tackle a 'mock-country' song as in 'White suit of notes' but he's so English it sounds more like a Butlins Redcoat take on honky-tonking. Herein lies the strength of his career and of this disc. Sometimes it's easy to overlook the home-grown talent and whilst he may not be the folk purist's idea of a folk-singer when he writes something as catchy and honest as the 'Riding on a bus' he can claim to be closer to the spirit of the 'people' than any number of people crawling through the archive dust. If he was Australian he'd probably be called Paul Kelly and receive much more adulation but who said there was any justice in this world - there'll be comfort and joy (as he sings on title track) in the next one then Mr.Gregson, now move along to the back of the bus….
Inside Straight Music 2002

Roots, tradition, history. The author of this work has a fair grasp of all of these as well as a magnificent playing technique. Honed through years of practice and stints with The Oyster Band, Peter Astor and Caroline Trettine to name but three Ian Kearey is a musician's musician so how does this his first solo disc shape up. Well it's a fatally flawed outing and one that is equally divided between sheer brilliance and awkward songwriting. Perhaps this was as much to do with the nature of its execution. Four days flat doesn't leave room for revision but to these ears it is the instrumental tracks which really hit home. Kearey is a master on the 12-string tracing a line through his playing back to Leo Kottke /John Fahey and then the great Rev.Gary Davis and all the other pre-war blues masters strumming on their catalogue guitars. There's also a deep knowledge of the English tradition Jansch, Renbourn, Drake et al. and so on tracks like Sophie And The Senator, the trad. Red Apples, Untitled In The Rain etc you get magnificent instrumentals played by a guy at the top of his game. No wonder other artists like Gary Lucas admire his work so much. However there is another side, literally, with six tracks of either self-penned and sung tunes or covers where the results are not so impressive. Whether it's rekindling punk roots ( Walking With The Devil) or revisiting past duets ( Walk IntoThe Wind) or simply producing Richard Thompson B-sides ( New History Dance) his obvious literariness (he lists his recent reading on the cover) and average singing lets him down. Nothing on one side of the fence matches the other. Richard Bell's production of his solo acoustic guitar is also more sure-footed and strident 'rock' moments like the intrusive electric guitar on 'Wind' don't help. There's a fantastic EP of six songs contained herein that I urge anybody who cares about this kind of music to seek out. Repackaged in that form as purely instrumental I reckon it would see Ian Kearey up there with the afore-mentioned greats. Oh and it should be called Requiem for Fahey because the overriding emotional core of this record is contained in the fabulous Requiem For Blind Joe Death. Fahey's recent departure is honoured and in a magical moment links us directly back to Fahey's incredible Requia disc on Vanguard which in turn honoured Mississippi John Hurt. Roots, tradition, history…. Masterclass stuff and not surprising then his home label is called Dan Leno Records and that catalogue number…Leno's death. This boy knows his music hall, his chops and his motorbikes.

available directly from 88 Roundhill Crescent Brighton East Sussex BN2 3FR UK
Dan Leno Records 2002
Long time friend of John Wesley Harding and boasting a musical back-line of west coast luminaries including Chuck Prophet and Chris Von Sneidern this second disc from London academic Lewis is straight out of 1969. It is wrapped in a late sixties, early seventies Al Stewart/Cat Stevens ambience that slightly detracts on first listen from the obvious song-writing strengths. With titles like Ramadan Moon and Too Much Love you'd be forgiven that Mr. Lewis had been at the patchouli oil and incense sticks a bit too much. However a closer listen reveals some genuine affection not just for that era but for a particularly gentle take on the British folk tradition. Hence the gloriously mellow take on Nick Drake's Northern Sky. At times the mellowness becomes a bit cloying in a Donovan like way…all flowers and moons rather than Universal Soldier. However the backing is strong and moves with his gentle voice showcasing its charm. Chuck Prophet adds masterful guitar throughout and Wesley Harding is a sympathetic backing singer. Indeed Lewis already has credits for a couple of strong songs on previous Wesley Harding discs. It may be that it is Lewis's friendship/influence that led to the outstanding Trad.Arr.Jones disc from Wesley Harding recently. Your Kind of Madness is lovely - a duet between Harding and Lewis that sounds like an Elektra Records out-take. Best track is the Harding-esque The Rain Stops Everything that strays into pop group The Go-betweens territory. All in all a fine effort if not quite a groundbreaking release and who knows if as the fashion pundits claim this is the third summer of love then this is the perfect soundtrack. Mellow yellow and Incredible String Band devotees hark and take hold for now.
Appleseed Recordings APR CD 1057
What if folk, what is folk? Well the singer with Things in Herds sounds a LOT like Nick Drake. It's scary. This Nick Drake has been reincarnated in front of a band that sounds part Sparklehorse weird post-rock and part Bristol trip-hop on opener Always Disappear. Then that subsides and second track is pure folk whimsy straight off an early Drake/ String Band Island LP. Is this folk? Well it sounds like something English. The band hail from Brighton and there's a grey misty morning on the beach feel to a lot of it. The playing is impeccable and the post-rock slant doesn't preclude a fine sense of song structure amongst the electronica sounds. Indeed they even call their label G-Folk so they think it's folk but a generation on from Drake's lonely death can such similarity be counted a success. It's the timbre of the voice that simultaneously thrills and worries. It is so lovely and yet so similar to the deceased man. This is most poignant on Too Happy… where the maudlin feel overwhelms. Still its execution is lovingly recorded. Then they throw a spanner in the works - it's a south-coast Pavement…wiz bang guitar and treated vocal just like Linkous. Woops…now that ain't folk. Really we're on planet Belle & Sebastian in that ghetto where indie rubbed up on the duvet next to folk and found itself at home. I like it but now the indie clichés start overloading with some Mercury Rev signature sounds. Pete Lush, for it is he that croons so sweetly, has evident ability and despite the Drake pastiche the record holds its own. There's an unfortunate blag of Bowie's Starman chords that niggles but it is still folky. The overwhelming feel is English pastoral and If you like Fruit Tree you'll like this if you can handle the contemporary soundscapes backing it. Postmodern Folk…that's what it is. I think. Space folk? Room for more exploration and development though before it touches the stars.
G-FOLK ( own label) 2002
Track four and a U2-like guitar riff starts amid the ghosts of Oyster Band and Big Country and is the best moment on this record. The track 'The Weaver of Grass' shows everything that is good in the Munro repertoire, an affecting subject, a Scottishness to the tune that doesn't disappear in mist and last of all a pace that recalls the best of Runrig before the stadium outweighed their island hearts. The subject of the song is one Angus MacPhee, an outsider artist from South Uistm, who spent his days weaving sculptures from grass. Munro shows genuine affection for this artist from 'a world unchanged'. That the rest of this disc doesn't live up to this moment is sadly more to do with the 'gentrification' of this passionate, political man and his work. Runrig has a passionate and loyal following who will scarcely draw breath as they snap up his latest work, no doubt dreaming for that day when he 'returns to the fold'. He is a man of many talents, art school, teaching, a political career on hold for the moment and a fine columnist who played his part in the independence debate. His credentials are perfect but this record isn't. Too many tracks are stickier than a muddy field, filled with sentimental feelings and unfocused lyrics that drift amiably by. Do we need a contemporary A.O.R. Scottish Bard? Munro knows his heritage and the sharp realism and genuine lyricism of the bardic tradition and the poets he looks up to. How then he can come up with the blandness of The Greatest Gift or The Sweetness Of The Wind is beyond me. The production is similarly smooth and at best reminiscent of Paul Brady or Van Morrison. A couple of tracks are better than this. Irene is saved by the power of the feeling he imparts as a tribute to a friend who died and the stunning choral sound of the gaelic Calum Sgaire is worth waiting a whole disc for. Otherwise it's like a cosy Victorian painting of a croft interior whilst outside there's a gale blowing and MacPhee tapping out with his fingers the curses of the past. Where's the politics now Donnie or are the old storms really over?
Hypertension 212 HYP
This release comes with a 'Hybrid Stereo' sticker and before you start thinking this is some Anglo/Irish folk crossover what we actually have is a rather efficient marketing angle from those clever people at Sony. Not possessing a super audio player I listened to this in old-fashioned digital as I suspect will most purchasers. So apart from appreciating the rounded edges on the jewel-box I do not know if the audio claims are true. What I can appreciate is the analogue to digital contents wherein Ms. McEvoy's voice is showcased against subtle jazz tinged or simple acoustic backgrounds. The inner sleeve also comes with an historical explanation of the origin of the 'Yola' language and its gradual extinction in the County Wexford area of Ireland. The irony of a disc that contains such rural nostalgia coming out on the latest digital village format isn't lost. Forgetting the slight air of 'misty-eyed' Celticism this brings to the project the surprise is that the album has very little connection with the Gaelic past as say a Dolores Keane disc would with her singing dynasty connections and far more to do with the female singer-songwriters of 1980's New York. Suzanne Vega's ghost is walking these Irish fields far more than that of any of the superstars of modern Irish Folk, be it Black or Moore. There is also a good bit of the country chanteuse in the songs. At times as in opener 'I got you to see me through' you could swear that Shawn Colvin, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, or that honorary Gael Nanci-Griffiths had re-located to Wexford. Which is where the unease starts creeping in. I cannot fault any aspect of this disc. It's a mature statement. The production is superb and the songs are 'crafted'. Song-writing workshops would be full of aspiring pupils if this lady gave a lesson. What galls is that it sounds so American. There is many an Irish artist who has traded these shores for pastures new over the seas but does that mean losing something of that identity that is so hauntingly flagged in the sleeve notes on the losing of native traditions/ language. The songs float by, dramatic and highly focused personal vignettes of lost love, thwarted ambition, and blue moods. Only on 'Last seen October 9th' does a wider song-scape emerge and this on a lament for a dead or missing friend? In this and the splendid 'The rain falls' does the songwriting leap out and grab you. Too many of the songs could be situated anywhere USA/UK/EIRE…there are no specifics. Perhaps local Wexford man Paddy Berry, who still sings songs dating back to the 17th Century, could take her aside for his own workshop and impart that old truth. Write or sing of what you know in your own voice and in the end your statement will last longer. Now a record of Eleanor singing some of those songs could well be stunning. For now her already established fan-base will love this and it is one of the flagship Irish folk releases of the year. It isn't quite the masterpiece it maybe could have been. Is the artist on the cover standing at the empty one line railway halt arriving or leaving her country of the mind? Yet I'm still playing 'The rain falls' over and over and over. A torch song written for an email generation that spills over all borders. A hybrid pleasure.
Market Square Records (UK) MSMSACD113 Blue Dandelion Records ( Ireland) EMCD 1 ( Own Label)