New Releases Episode 4

Joe Edwards              Keep on Running                  Tiny Mountain          Out Now

This debut album from Wiltshire singer/songwriter Joe Edwards gives him a pretty impressive start to his recording career.

He admits to soaking up the influences of the great American songwriters while at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, but I have to say that even though he recorded this in Nashville, he has retained a certain essential Englishness in his work. In this he has been ably assisted by producer Steve Dawson, who has allowed Edwards’ vocals to take prominence while providing some sympathetic enhancements (he also plays guitar, dobro and pedal steel here).

Some fine keyboard work from Chris Gestrin, underpinned by bass from Jeremy Holmes and Joe’s brother Alex on drums add to the polished and mature feel of the album and do the songs justice, particularly on the title track, Cross the Line and Driving Home.

It stands up well to repeated listening, which is what it’s getting in my house.

Steve Crawford & Spider MacKenzie        Celticana        Self                  Out Now

I must confess to an aversion to made up words – usually a result of an optimistic PR Department – “Grassicana” is one such deviant doing the rounds just now, so this album started out with a hill to climb, given its title.

Fortunately, however, the content surpasses the label with an attractive blend of folk, jazz, blues and more. Steve Crawford is a well-established name both in Scotland and Germany, where he live these days, and Spider MacKenzie’s harmonica has graced albums by artistes on both sides of the Atlantic. They’ve been playing together, on and off, for a long time now and that shows in the way they complement each other throughout this album.

The majority of the Songs are from Crawford, with a couple of tunes from MacKenzie thrown in for good measure. After the Ceilidh, Hands of the Devil and Glen Deskry jump out on early listens, but the overall standard is high. The production, too, is perfectly balanced to make the most of the partnership.

Thomas Aaron Garlow        Waterfalls                  Self                  Out Now

This album was made possible, in part, through an “Innovative Artist Grant” awarded to Thomas by the United Arts Council in his hometown. The two-year project emphasized collaboration with local visual artists and with local musicians and studios.

I think the UAC will consider this money well spent. 5 years after his last release, Waterfalls emphasises his roots in rural Appalachia with this collection of self-penned material. The title track was recorded live in an old chapel and the others in 3 studios using some very talented local musicians. There’s some strong subject matter, Only One Survived chronicles the story of the 2006 Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia and is followed by the reading of the letter written by the shift supervisor, Junior Toler, moments before he passed; Gloria (That’s The Way It Goes) immortalises a beautiful mountain that was destroyed by coal strip mining.

If this album has a fault, it’s that Garrow wears his heart on his sleeve a little too readily and this can lead to a tip into over sentimentality at times. But overall, the strength of the music and the playing make for a worthwhile experience.

Liza DiSavino            There Was a Fair Maid Dwelling                Self      Out Now

This album came to me as a download, and while I can give you some background, I’m just making an assumption that it’s a recent release. Whatever, it’s a project that demands your close attention.

Liza DiSavino is one half of the acoustic duo Liza & A.J. Her alter ego, Dr Elizabeth DiSavino, is an associate professor at Berea College in Kentucky where she directs the Celebration of Traditional Music.

There Was a Fair Maid Dwelling is part of a trilogy (CD, biography, songbook) that has taken six years to come to fruition. This album is a recording of ballads collected in 1909 by Dr. Katherine Jackson French. Despite a promise of help with publication on the part of Berea College President William Goodell Frost, this collection has never before been published or heard. I’ll let Liza tell it:

“Dr. French’s publication efforts fell victim to the Ballad Wars – an intriguing tangle of gender role limitations, power structures, broken promises, and outright theft. Had she succeeded, hers would have been the first large, scholarly collection of Appalachian ballads ever published, and our initial impression of Appalachian music and its keepers might have been quite different than the one handed down by Cecil Sharp and others.”

This story is detailed in DiSavino’s biography of French, published through University Press of Kentucky entitled Katherine Jackson French: Kentucky’s Forgotten Ballad Collector.

The final leg of the trilogy is a commemorative edition of Dr. French’s ballads, English-Scottish Ballads from the Hills of Kentucky, published through Berea College in fulfilment of their 110-year-old promise. It too, is available now and brings the project to completion.

John McCutcheon                 Cabin Fever               Self                  Out Now

With 40 albums under his belt, you might think that John McCutcheon, the “Rustic Renaissance Man” would take advantage of the enforced rest brought about by quarantine and put his feet up. No chance. Here’s album number 41, the aptly titled Cabin Fever.

As the title suggests, there’s a concentration in the lyrics on dealing with the covid pandemic. Opener Front Line is as good a summation of, and tribute to, those on whom the rest of us depend as I’ve heard, and there’s a great deal being written and sung on the subject just now.

There’s a couple of more light-hearted songs on how we deal with things – Six Feet Away (“I’m longing to ask her to take off her mask as I love her from six feet away”) and My Dog Talking Blues.

Away from this topic, he slips through history with Monet Refuses the Operation and back into biblical Palestine with The Donkey. A more recent sadness, too, on The Night John Prine Died.

A fine album from a fine storyteller whose warm delivery made me wish and hope that sooner rather than later, we can be out enjoying live music once more.

Jim Welsh

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