Folk Alley CD Reviews for July
By Jim Blum, FolkAlley.com
KELLER & THE KEELS ~ Thief
The names may sound familiar: This group is a combination of Mr. Everything, Keller Williams, along with flatpick whiz Larry keel and his wife Jenny. I’m guessing that they met at a jam festival somewhere, because that’s where they seem to be getting booked now.
The amusing title Thief is in reference to the fact that this is a cover album, and that’s the way Keller views covers. Actually, this is the perfect opportunity for such a combination, because the arrangements cannot help but be unique.
Keller does most of the singing and Larry provides the impressive and entertaining acoustic guitar leads. “Uncle Disney,” written by Patterson Hood, is a jabbing commentary about what a conversation with a thawed out (cryogenically frozen) Walt Disney in the future would sound like. Other highlights are Ryan Adams “Cold Roses,” The Grateful Dead’s “Mountains of the Moon,” and “Pepper” from of all groups – The Butthole Surfers.
This album is consistent: offering energy, melody, licks, and satire throughout. Thief would be great on a road trip or as a backdrop for any project you are working on. Once it starts playing you’ll find yourself moving faster.
AMELIA CURRAN ~ Hunter, Hunter
New to our music library, and perhaps to yours after you listen, is Amelia Curran. She comes from a musical family from Newfoundland, but her interests are not typical. Though her sound is an Americana/old timey mix, she loves Nirvana and Thelonius Monk. She likes the raw energy of the former and the space between notes from the latter. Fusing both influences has helped create an original style, which is what you need in this crowded musical world.
Another notable influence is Leonard Cohen and many of her lyrical insights may have come from him. “Hands on a Grain of Sand” sounds like a typical Cohen double take: Your hand can’t easily grasp one grain of sand, so at first the line doesn’t make sense, but that’s exactly her point. What’s worth understanding may not be obvious and make take an effort to grasp. Curran’s album is full of this kind of subtlety, and that goes for the music too. The banjo/guitar/drum brush rhythm creates almost a Monk like tension and release.
The song everyone is talking about is called “The Mistress.” This one features Amelia alone and is edgy and wordy – almost a talking blues. She sings in first person offering a perspective on an illicit relationship not often heard. She demands your attention and she’ll get it. For a first international release Hunter, Hunter shows promise of more to come.
JOHN MCSHERRY ~ Soma
A founding member of Lunasa, John is a specialist on whistles and uilleann pipes. He has also played with Clannad, Sinead O’Connor, Nanci Griffith, and Donal Lunny. Obviously he got an early start as he won two All-Ireland championships before he turned 15.
With that background in mind, you might imagine that McSherry knows what he’s doing.
He does. He has also learned a few things over the years about how to make his high pitched instruments more appealing to ears which were not raised on Celtic music. Soma has a driving rhythm section. Backing him are guitar (Tony Byrne) AND bouzouki (Ruban Bada), plus keyboards (Donal O’Connor). For more drive he adds both drums and bodhran. The only other lead player is Joanne McSherry on fiddle, so John’s intent here is to create energy behind him.
Highlights are “The Maid of Murlough” inspired by a trip to Slovenia and “Aillie’s Antics” which begins slowly and builds in intensity. “The Slide from Grace” is also a clear example of the extra care McSherry brings to the table. This is a medley of 4 tunes, but to differentiate them each tune is played at a different pace and often with different instruments being prominent. Soma is one of those albums that lead you to follow the McSherry tree in the search for more fruit.
JORY NASH ~ New Blue Day
Jory is a thoughtful and somewhat overlooked songwriter from Toronto. I mention overlooked because although several of his songs have found their way to Folk Alley before, this new album got lost in a plethora of submissions. Thanks to Mr. Nash’s gentle reminders, we now have several new gems shining upon us from New Blue Day.
First songs are important first impressions, and “Our Time Again” offers a solid start. Very catchy with three part harmony, the song asks what we have all asked for at one point, a second chance. “Before You Get There” is a clever analogy comparing the recession to preparing for heaven. They may seem out of sorts, but as you follow Nash’s implications, you begin to get his point. The organ and slide guitar offer a nice backdrop.
The album’s standout might be “Homily,” which Nash began as a salute to downtown Toronto. As the song took shape it became something deeper and more mysterious:
“Sometimes it’s good to be
a thought, a rhyme, a theory
but if I saw more clearly
the opposite would be true…”
As your head begins to boil trying to figure this out, you also get caught up in the subtleties of the fiddle, accordion, and shaker backing Jory’s compelling delivery. Songs like this are examples of what good songs should be: instantly ear-catching while all the layers of music and thought make it worth revisiting again and again. It’s the same reason that we return to some restaurants and simply pay the check at others.
New Blue Day offers folk, blues, and roots, with acoustic or electric guitar, with strong solos that don’t interrupt Jory’s pleasant voice and carefully arranged harmonies.