Maria Dunn’s folk root music is as honest as the day itself. Maria has a classic tone to her voice and her master of various instruments makes a formidable combination. Her albums showcase a far more broader range of instruments that just the guitar and violin but this is a beautifully performed number and deserves to be found.
Steve Schultz may be releasing his second album Over The Edge this week but he’s just getting us warmed up to his clean and honest vocals and piano based tunes. There’s something very organic and Simon/Garfunkel about Steve that makes everything feel fresh whilst reminiscent of what a lot of people consider the hey day of “real piano music” when Elton John was number 1.
This is the lead single “Shadow” from the latest album. It’s a cracker.
Artemis launched her career from the original MP3.com and this was one of the first EP’s I was able to buy from the site when I was old enough to wield a card.
“Treasure” leads the EP off as the strong track with its shuffling acoustic guitar beats and background draw organ giving a tinge of Caribbean flavour to the rock track. The slide guitar works very well as the embellishments. Artemis herself as a smooth vocal that never takes over the song but it can certainly hold its on. “Cruel” then daring goes acapella for Artemis to really showcase her vocals properly. This is a soulful blues number and works very well without instruments. It straddles a fine line between vocal gymnastics and passion and by not going overboard on the warbles the track stands out. “Voices” is an acoustic guitar and vocal track that uses some more unusual chord structures to really stand out. It’s quite delicate and beautiful on the surface but slowly more and more minor chords and clashing of notes creeps in and actually the track builds into a powerful ballad. “Rising” keeps the same style but stays more taut as opposed to building up the tension. The EP ends with “Shameless” which see’s a full band return for only the second time and its a blues rock number. It feels like a different recording session as the production feels different but the track is quite catchy with its offbeat mini chord changes in the chorus. There’s much more keyboard production here too hinting at the more electronic route she’d take after this.
Artemis opened up her musical career in the acoustic rock genre before she took on electronica and so for fans this is fun to hear, for the rest of us its a well accomplished EP and the title track is fantastic.
A bit of an experimental one for you all today. KonstantinAS takes guitars from around the globe and weaves them into avant garde instrumental pieces that sounds like Eastern background music. Some of them are melodic, some are freeform, all of them are inherently interesting as they twist and warp around. As of yet, there’s little out there to watch and view but his ReverbNation page is the best place for song samples so you can play “guess the influence”!
Hopefully we will have more of this guitar virtuoso in the future.
Lisa Germano quietly released “No Elephants” earlier this year and for Lisa, it continues to slide her further into the realms of beautiful breakdown that she’s been exploring particularly over the previous three albums.
Opening with “Ruminants” begins with fluttering wings and bird song before slow and soft piano gently clamber through its chords whilst Lisa brings on her high register on her voice to make words like “Hogwash” actually sound emotive. Quite an achievement in itself. “No Elephants” calls on similar tactics but sounds like it’s been recorded live. You can hear seat cracks and a the piano foot tap. This track is Germano at her best though. She can work pathetic sounding discordant woodwind and bass guitar like no other. The music during this album reminds me of a music box. The chord progressions and the way they are played. It also introduces a key signature that appears in a few songs – the mobile reception feedback buzz. It makes a curious backing for such a sad track.
“Apathy And the Devil” introduces distorted drum loops slowly echoing in the background whilst everything else aside from the piano riffs get lost in swirling electronic buzzes, hums and telephone beeps. Clearly Lisa has been inspired by the way how the phone technology is infiltrating all life as she sings “I watch the world explode”. The message is more pointed with the interlude “Back To Earth” which takes dial tones and puts them on a repeating echo. “Haunted” goes for uncomfortable chords and makes the piano sickly sweet to make it all the more eerie. ”A Feast” appears to be Lisa’s idea of a Christmas song with sleigh bells and evil tuned bells not quite being in tune as random interludes to a more swinging track compared to the songs before it. “Up In The Air” follows a similar vein only in a more start/stop momentum. The track really comes alive during the violin sections as Lisa knows how to make a lot of emotion in a short space of time. “Dance of the Bees” brings back the mobile phone buzzing noises again for another percussive interlude with some nice uke making a welcome return from her old albums too.
“Diamonds” along with tracks two and three are the standouts on the album. There is a beautiful ebb and flow with the string accompaniment that’s not present on a lot of the album but here its in abundance. It really pushes the track along and makes it more dynamic and expressive. “…And So On” is a cute ditty that’s one of the warmest tracks on the album before “Last Straws For Sale” showcases Lisa’s lyrical talents over a broken track. The album closes fittingly with more phone dial tones and a simple track playing over the top. “Strange Bird” reminds me very much of the Lullaby album and this album is probably the closest to that album tonally.
“No Elephants” is curious because it works better as a collective then as tracks on their own separately. It also needs time to bed in. There’s very little immediately hookable here but its all about the emotion that ebbs and flows over the twelve tracks. I also think that actually making something that was not full of hooks was part of the point. It feels like a subliminal attack on phones and with that, their immediacy. “No Elephants” sticks completely to its apparent vision and for that Germano should be commended.
Heima return with a new album next month – and a new name too! Renamed to “Bellstop” the duo’s new album will be called Karma. Bellstop have such a great indie folk rock sound and the Icelandic duo look set to rock out in June. Here’s the lead single “Trouble”. Watch out for the scary Ronald McDonald-esque mask!
I think for once, I’ll let this absolutely beautiful track do the talking. For fans of Faun, Qntal, Omnia, Pagan/Neo-Folk, World Music with a difference and something very Lord of the Rings!
She did all the illustrations herself too!
Linda Draper has a new album arising on the 21st of May entitled “Edgewise” and by all accounts it will be acoustic finger guitar bliss. Linda is a new artist to me but I’ve been hooked in when I heard to quiet intensity of the lead single when I found it online. You can listen to and download “Hollow” below. Wonderful production – so warm.
Jim Guthrie, of Sound Shapes fame among others has released his latest solo album and it’s a beauty. HPM will be reviewing it quite soon but until then I suggest you swim in the serenity that is Bring on the Night:
The albums available on Bandcamp.
Cloudi Lewis are a warm and luscious band from the UK and have just released an EP which frankly – has an awesome title.
Aside from that, the music is rather good too. Opener “Rambling” starts off their acoustic folksy rock with some big bass drums and happy claps as the initially country-style guitar subdues into a more spacial folk music. The way the instruments are mixed makes the choruses and bridges feel warm and inviting and they sound evenly split so nothing pushes forward. That way the music envelopes you instead of punches you. The female lead singer has some real chops on her too! “Like This” is more whimsy and reflective than its preprocessor and is daring enough to actually leave silence in its chorus. It’s a sign of a band that’s confident and sure of their sound. The track itself is beautifully put together and is a camp fire starlet in waiting.
“The Woods” takes things down to very slow 6 step waltzing verse before the choruses step up the tempo and the beat kicks into a more usual 4/4. I love that there is such a marked shift in sound, pace and feel between the two.”Ego” too has a wonderfully loose beat to it as the rage comes and slithers away from the track itself. It’s as if the entire band is connected on a trail of string because as soon as the vocals or guitar break from their pretty-in-the-breakdown sound the bass and cymbals saw into your ears too. It’s subtle but it’s so very good. The closing track is “White Dress” which is a live track. It has some absolutely sublime guitar finger work which wraps itself around the equally beautiful and delicate vocal delivery of Cloudi Lewis.
Put simply, this is a wonderful way to introduce you to a new band whom I hope go places and do marvellous things. Higher Plain Music will certainly be cheering them on! Welcome to Cloudy Lewis.
Quite possibly one of the more unlikely combo’s to be wheeled out onto the stage, Spark & Echo are genuinely nice people and Jonathon’s got some almighty piano chops whilst anyone wielding a basson on stage and not using it as a sonic weapon deserves applauses! This track will be sure to pop a smile on your face if you dig the snazzy hands electric piano.
Sasha Papernik comes from Russian heritage but is US based and has just launched her third album “Victory”. This is the wonderfully chilled out “Tonkaya Ryabina” which is a traditional Russian track. Whilst the rest of Sasha’s music is in English – there is something whimsical and homely about this track and its arrangement.
First time ever – Mountain solo. The ending is awesome. That is all at risk of becoming an even lesser veiled fanboy.
Peter Ulrich doesn’t have the quickest album turnover averaging an album once every seven years. However when an album does appear you can rest assured that it is going to be something quite special indeed. Joining forces with plenty of other artists and collaborators this time Peter brings friends and with it, his third studio is his most diverse yet.
Opening with “In This or Other Skin” we are treated to a wonderfully ramshackle gypsy folk track that bounces and traipses over the land with purpose and flair. The vocal duties here have a worldly quality to them and are not led by Ulrich himself, whom provides many of the gazillion instruments you’ll hear throughout the album. It’s a wonderful way to open the album before things take a Georgian/Indian twist with some imaginative cross culture blending. Ulrich provides a background mantra that breezes over organs and eastern percussion while a sitar provides a Raj of sorts and female luscious vocals power through over the top of it all. It’s such a unique take on things and introduces you quickly to that fact that although no two tracks cover the same ground at all, they all feel strangely connected like everything is taking a journey.
Moving to a broken down cabaret rock track we have Ulrich finally take the lead vocal on “The Secret Gardener” which has a secret rumba flicking back and forth behind the scenes as the you are seduced into the brass and the boozy pow-wows of the backing vocals. It reminds me of a track you’d play in a film when you do a final montage before the lead protagonist meets the baddie for the final showdown. “Dark Lover” then takes on a spiky Persian/Greek banjo track which is short but very complex in its make-up. There’s some wonderfully elaborate plucking that walks a fine line between Country Joe and Greek plate smashing and the vocals here are deep and sensual. It allows the mellow acousti-delic “Starship (Golden Eye)” which follows to effortlessly transport you on a trip well away from this Earth. It reminds me of some of Bowie’s more trippier mellow moments yet it still has an otherworldly quality that could equally channel Lorenna McKennitt if she dared to do an album on hedonism. “Children of the Rain” then tightens things into a powerful acoustic cry in celebration and warning for the rainforests. In a clever twist the vocalists sing very much like an African troupe and its all the wonderful percussion that Peter Ulrich is renowned for, it turns a catchy folk track into something that is utterly mesmerising.
“Drug of War” changes political assault towards war and deals with the after effects of war survivors whom are still scarred internally. It’s a catchy acoustic guitar led track with some nifty use of thumb pianos and some excellent mirages of backing vocals that echo softly and interact with each other. The absence of a proper bass here means that actual the male lead vocal becomes the lowest pitched instrument and it makes a stark and emotional impact on the song. “Hanging Man” continues the slide towards baroque pop with a strong production change where all the instruments are brought close to the ear with little reverb. This makes the Irish flute embellishments all the more haunting as the track haunts you upon each rolling beat as you march in the funeral line. Continuing the theme of loss and death “Fanfare for the Lost Tribe” turns to brass and monotone Native American chants and percussion to give and upbeat blessing to the departed. It has such an unusual mix to the track it takes a few listens to really feel each rhythm and level of energy. Then it will all hit you at once and it clicks magically.
“The Desert” returns to more ethnic roots giving us a psychedelic Indian rock track. There is so much going on with so many different instruments from different time periods and cultures pushing for your attention – it’s like an assault of the senses. The chorus is like a pill of euphoria and I challenge anyone not to get lost in the dizzy heights of it. “Love’s Skeleton” is a great ode to the everlasting love that remains after death. Things start to run full circle with a return to gypsy folk – that magical bounce and some big choruses as the track transitions constantly between tuned percussion and shout out loud questions of the world over meandering guitar riffs. It’s very much like the album comes together in a huge explosion of what has come before it and its spellbinding. “Tempest” is the track that closes the album however, with a welcome return of the hammered dulcimer in parts and only the second track Ulrich leads the vocal department. It feels like a sea shanty in places and a soaring bird of freedom in others. It always feels like it’s constantly driving forward towards a beautiful conclusion.
Quite simply “The Painted Caravan” is utterly phenomenal from start to finish. Peter Ulrich and his collaborators (mainly Trebor Lloyd, Sara Wendt, David Steele and Anne Husick) have pulled out all the stops, said goodbye to any conformity and became trailblazers and pioneers of musical art. Easily a contender for album of the year – if you dare to try music that will attack and soothe all your senses – this is your medicine.
James Nighthawk upon releasing his début album has chosen a perfect title to really get you in the mood for listening to him. “The Twilight Sessions” nestles between acoustic folk veering between tongue in cheek pub shanty’s and delicate deliveries.
“Not the One” is a prime example – a very traditional song structure with pristine production values. Every squeak and tinge of the guitar can be heard and Nighthawk’s soft breathy delivery works a treat alongside the xylophone. It really harks back to lullaby’s of the 50′s and 60′s and the production gives much needed depth and substance to each song in turn . “Midas Touch” is one of the very few plugged tracks with simple but catchy hooks and a real drive behind the guitars and chord structures. “Jamboree” is a short ghostly track devoid of much bass to emphasis the whole emotional depth of the track. What bass is there is provided by echoing backing vocals which is a great touch. There’s a slight doubling treatment that gives the main vocal’s an eerie otherworldly twist and its a beautifully performed quiet pause for breath. “Don’t Give Your Love Out” is a fun duet with a female vocalist which sits firmly in the happy clap / thigh slap folk section. I personally wanted it to burst into some massive firework exploding finale but as it is, it makes a mighty fine pint swaying country pub number.
“Ghost Town” is along with Jamboree my favourites from the album. It’s where James pulls away from some of the more by the numbers approach and shows there’s someone who wants to give you a warning that not all is quite right as the sun goes down. Discordant embellishments and ever-present feedback synth circulates behind a track that feels taut and on edge – without ever letting go. It’s a stark contrast to the more whimsy “Crystal Ball” which brings back some electric guitar and makes me think of Hawaii without the slide the guitar. “Country Ball” gives the genre away in the title and reminds me of those internet songs you first looked up when you got onto the internet which have some lightly humorous punchlines at the end of each verse. It doesn’t quite fit the usual music I enjoy but the fact I didn’t scream barn dance is testament to the quality of the track.
“Stay in Touch” is another favourite with Nighthawk taking a very understated vocal approach while the a quickened percussive beat juxtaposes a sad slow guitar melody. They interplay with each other beautifully and again shows some real moments of genius. “Speak Out” continues a more experimental approach to delivery with various vocal techno-wizardry a marching beat over some emotional and politically charged lyrics that can be laid unto many concepts. It then does explode into a psychedelic finale as finally after a several taut songs – it’s like the coil springs and everything is released out.
With the big explosion over “Let Me Know” returns to a more bluesy folk style of writing love letters home whilst chewing corn on the farm. Sweet, friendly and like a ray of sunshine through grimaced lips – it’s another song that delivers sad lines through misleading happy notes. “Ftw” changes things up for an up-tempo waltzing ballad which reminds me of “War is Over (This is Christmas)” because of the vocal echo and the production of the guitar before a soft closure with “One Hell of a Time” finger picks its way effortlessly to a thoughtful candlelit ending.
James Nighthawk’s “The Twilight Sessions” sounds like it was recorded at 10.30pm under an oil lamp surrounded by country folk swaying whilst drinking some fine wine whilst the crowd exchange loving and slightly evil glances at each other. It houses all the warmth and traditional values of an old skool folk album but with very interesting production choices that give the album and the genre a fresh lick of paint. A most welcome addition to the barn indeed.
I came across Marya Stark’s music from her involvement with Lila Rose. Lila was one of my favourite discoveries of 2012 and with Marya’s album “The Garden”, I have found my first big discovery of 2013.
“The Garden” opens with its title track and sets you up for a what is a diverse singer/songwriter trot across various genres and penchants. Marya’s voice is silky smooth but strong. The production is crisp and clear. The instruments have acoustic guitar laying down the initial bed before drums, strings, bass and bells start merging in. “Crossroads” equally has some delicate guitar work that underpins the rest of instruments. Plenty of minor chords seep through while Stark makes sure her vocals wrap themselves around the guitar. It’s emotive and clever to have such a bubbling undercurrent pushing the song along whilst the vocals are for the most part serene The middle section is spellbinding as everything clashes together for the finale. It’s a magnificent piece from start to end.
“Witness” in turn takes things Eastern with some beautifully warm woodwind, percussion and strings. The interplay between the Indian flute and the vocals works perfectly and the stop/start verses give everything definition. You’ll want to bathe in the warmth. “Healer Of All Wounds” veers Western with a folksy country tinged acoustic Hobbiton lullaby. Marya’s high register vocals here are crystal like and again there’s warmth throughout the emotional track. “Mosaic Hearts” is the radio friendly top down driving track. The guitar riffs are cute and pert whilst the choruses and hand waving anthemic. Stark is equally capable of writing three-minute hooks as she is scoring five-minute epic stories.
“Whimsical Dance” is curiously playful with its bluesy turned down beats and keys. The bridges are especially fun and the added brass gives an overall cabaret rock flavour to proceedings. “Lightning In A Bottle” reminds me very much of Sarah Slean with its theatrical Spanish Guitar and massive vocal montages that build as the percussion explodes and chords free-fall into chaos. “Secret Song” has its production made spacious and vast so everything feels like distant echoes and far away from your ear. The result is a lack of low-end to the track which makes every guitar pluck and vocal inflection sound pure and ethereal.
“Oh Infatuation Of Mine” gives us a French Waltz with some great instrumentation and percussive edges. It also has a Persian feel behind the scenes too but again Marya makes everything have a theatrical feel. There’s a great energy to this track which I can’t quite place but I love it. “Toast To Loneliness” is simply beautiful and beautifully simple. Sometimes less is more of the song structure front and here Stark by name, Stark by nature – this is a wonderfully understated gem. “Rod of Measure” is much the playful twin to the previous track as a plucky guitar/vocal track until its dramatic conclusion where Marya really lets everything out unlike any other part of the album.
“Funny Little Thing” has the whimsy side down to perfection with guitar harmonics and fun chord progressions. Marya’s lyrics fly out at speed and there’s a whole shugging-of-shoulders that you can feel throughout. The album closes out with “Under Your Wing” which hits completely left-field when Marya unveils an operatic voice which is underpinned by accordion and guitar that’s being played through the intercom.
“The Garden” really does feel like the place for everything. The album just doesn’t sit still and each song has moments where you sit back and think “wow”. Marya Stark’s album genuinely impresses and impales your heart. Mesmerising from start to end. I want everyone to hear her.
It’s not often that I comment on a bands fans but I feel that I need to before I dive into the review od Faun’s latest album. Faun is a band that recently has undergone various line-up changes with its Neo-Folk sound and now their sixth album see’s them sign with Universal – a huge coup for the band. With a large signing comes a slightly streamlined record. Anyone whom thought this wouldn’t happen is absolutely crazy. Outside their ardent fanbase no one knows the band and this album in many ways acts as an introduction to the wonderful world of Faun. It is a shame that “fans” see it fit to rip the band to shreds over this – especially when the quality of music is still vastly superior to what most bands are churning out in this field.
So it comes then, as no surprise that “Von den Elben” is a more streamlined, less deviant album that its various predecessors. For better and for some for worse. It’s certainly no sell out however and is jammed with quality tracks. Opening with “Mit dem Wind” you can hear a much cleaner, crisper sound. Things are brighter, tighter and polished. Faun have also spent the album gearing themselves towards a more pub folk effort which see’s the band pushing rowdy choruses and more direct melodies. “Diese Kalte Nacht” the single pushes the more electronic beats to the fore with a slow but deep bass drum section over the usual bagpipes and beautiful vocal melodies. Say what you will about their changing line-up, the vocals are always sublime. It’s also great to hear the harp get its moment in the sun too. Title track “Von den Elben” takes things back to the melodic harp and flute melodies of old with a gorgeous wistful track that is as timeless as the tide.
“Tanz Mit Mir” is the first track that really homes in the newer country pub influence. It’s the raspy male vocals that bring this home along with the sheer energy of the whole track as a whole. The call and response of male and female vocals works a treat and you can almost hear a Eurovision twang to it. “Schrei es in die Winde” is an absolutely stonking track though with a rousing chorus and pounding beat. I love how Faun can make a melody based on constantly meandering notes that never sit still. It’s as close to rock that Faun have dared to go to and I love the results. “Wilde Rose” is a beautiful militant track drenched in vocal harmonies that are all soft and warm but come together in a powerful way for the choruses whilst “Wenn wir use Wierdersehen” uses its lack of bass to really produce a top end pacey track full of woodwind and light vocals. Whenever that kind of production is used it always gives things a slightly more emotive vibe and it pulls through here.
“Bring mich nach Haus” has a very Irish feel to it with its final chorus and outro going up a note for effect. Even the slower tracks have a certain gusto to them – there’s little wallowing in this album. One place where things are damp however is “Welche Sprache sptricht dein Herz”. Here the minor keys pop out and things are kept downbeat and sombre for the first time all album. The downcast is then followed by a fan moment with “Andro II” which is a re-recording of Andro from “Licht” and is given an extended ethereal opening before blasting us with the awesome instrumental bagpipe jig.
“Minne Duet” returns to more raspy vocals and reminds me more of a swashbuckling track than the usual Faun music before the sumptuous “Thymian & Rosmarin” takes you over with the wonderous folksy guitars and duet vocals. If anything this is most Irish and mainstream to World music the band get to but it works beautifully. The album closer “Warte aur Mich” has an epic sway to its waltzing beat and closes the album out in mystical style.
Yes, it’s the most mainstream Faun have been to date in production value, song structure and general instrumentation. Does that make it a bad album? Certainly not. There’s a bounty of tracks to love and enjoy and that is the most important thing. The heart shines through.
We featured Kim Edwards last year with a lovely music video and Kim Edwards returns this week with a beautiful track “Wanderlust”. Kim’s vocals are so beautiful and so very similar to Vanessa Carlton that they could be kindred souls in the piano singer/songwriter ways but Edwards’ has a certain fragility that is just adorable.
This speaks for itself.
With a penchant for bringing in various quirks from different types of genres and meshing them together, Marya Stark has crafted an excellent album The Garden which came out at the very end of last year. With the cute music video “Mosaic Hearts” is one of the more radio friendly tracks on the album and a great place to dive into this fab new artist you’ll be hearing a lot about from Higher Plain Music.
Yae’s instrumentation lays firmly in the acoustic old and Yae’s voice is silky smooth and angelic. “Fly” is the beautiful opener. Flowing piano plinks up and down the scales whilst the strings slowly build and soar as Yae melts your heart with sincerity. “Carol” is a short vocal embu showing her vocal layering talents. “Blue” then returns to a more muted piano that repeats the same riff whilst a lot of really bizarre instruments bend and twist around in the background. It creates a celestial element to the track as various bells and such are bent out of fashion. Guitars and keyboards seep in to fill the voids and it’s all beautifully eerie. “Nagaku Nobita Kage Wo Oikakete” is a further extension from this taking away the piano and guitar base and leaving ambient noises and synthesised bass and keyboard bleeps to lead the way. It works surprisingly well as Yae pushes her vocals right up front here.
Things return to the J-Folk way with “Sally” which see’s traditional percussion, guitars and soft keyboard pads leading the way with a lazy laid back track with a strong chorus. “Koi No Shitsuke” on the other hand feels like something of a musical orgasm! Starting out almost as a vocal only track guitar and drums are added in slowly and the pace starts to increase over verses and choruses until it’s a rapid fire rush to the soul. It’s so uplifting and enlightening to listen to – fabulous. “Hi No Ateru Oka De” was before the Hawaiian album the closest she had been to the genre. Whimsy Ukulele, sliding guitars and echoing shimmering backing vocals it’s like basking in the sun. “Omosayo” is like a traditional calling or summoning chant. A very small amount of Shamisen can be heard in the background but aside from that it’s all Yae’s vocals powering out.
The back third of the album returns to abstract ballad technique in force throughout the album with “Koi No Hana” which seems to have lots of twisting cog or screws along with xylphone for good measure. This is one of my favourites on the album. There’s something so simple and pure about the whole thing – its touching. “Kaze No Yuta” is the token English spoken track on the album. It’s gentle but one of two songs featuring a full band. Yae’s English is good and the whole thing has a Western sunshine feel to it with some excellent guitar and percussion work. “Tenshi” is a xylophone and vocal track that leads quietly to the reflective piano outro “Drop of Water”.
“Blue Line” is delicately beautiful. It’s not my favourite work of Yae’s but this is the relaxers purist album. Yae’s vocals and delivery always shine and whilst it may be a tad gentile for some, I get lost in its melodies.