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Marina Allen: Candlepower – album review

Marina Allen: Candlepower

(Fire Records)

LP | CD | DL

Out now

A folk-inclined debut from a spiritually-oriented Californian songwriter.

BUY HERE

While listening to Candlepower, it’s not hard to detect the multiple references that Marina Allen names as influential artists. Some of the most personal twists in her lyrics nod to Joni Mitchell’s Blue, while a soft tremolo of the voice reminds of the velvety vocals of Karen Carpenter. Unlike her favourites, Allen is quite laconic. Candlepower barely spans over eighteen minutes. Yet seven songs eloquently speak up for a smitten mind and express longing for wholeness.

Although saturated with musical citations, the album sheds light on Allen’s individuality. She carefully crafts the magical world of her own, using both audial (chimes and hypnotic loops) and visual (spiral-looking patterns in her music videos) elements. Continuous spiritual overtones communicate a wish to grow beyond the limits set by fears. Repeated throughout the record, phrases such as “I want to belong here” or “I long to belong” sound almost like a mantra. They are empowered by music that brings up the shamanic quality. Hissing percussion and an undulating guitar riff on Belong Here culminate in a texture with polyphonic vocals and the ethereal sound of chiming bells, alluding to Parallelograms by Linda Perhacs. The impressionistic arrangement gives you a feeling of playful spontaneity.

Marina Allen can be seen as an artist professing the idea of new sincerity. With her introspective approach, she attempts to express the actual feeling, yet is seemingly aware of the performative aspect. There is always a fine line between these two. On the opening track Oh, Louise, Allen ostensibly addresses her younger self with charming lyrics and then surprisingly proceeds with lines that slightly remind of NHS advice on the Mindfulness page: Drink Water / Eat Broccoli / Love your neighbour. Is she being ironic? Who knows.

The album’s closer Reunion sets an open ending – possibly the most congruous finale for such a therapeutic album as Candlepower. Marina Allen’s journey on the path of self-discovery seems to have just begun.

Follow Marina Allen on Twitter and Instagram.

~

All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found in her author’s archive.

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Album review: STEPHEN FOSTER & HOWLER – Southern

Stephen Foster & Howler - SouthernThoroughbred Music [Release date 21.04.21] With a career spanning Americana, r&b, blues, rock, country, zydeco, gospel, folk and even electronica, Stephen Foster has plenty of scope to dive into his southern roots for an album full of swampy grooves, strong narratives, … Continue reading

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News: CARAVAN, DONNIE IRIS, DOWNLOAD (June 2021)

Caravan - Great British Rock & Blues Festival 2015Caravan (pictured above) have announced they will release a  37-disc deluxe box set, ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’, on August 20 through Madfish Records. District 97 vocalist Leslie Hunt will release a brand new EP, ‘Ascend’, through Spirit Of Unicorn Records … Continue reading

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Singles: NIGHT RANGER, PATRICK HEMER, VOODOO BLUE,

Night RangerNIGHT RANGER Breakout (Frontiers) A taster from the band’s 12th studio album, ‘ATBPO’ (And the Bands Played On), due out on August 6. It is a typical, upbeat rocker from Night Ranger with guitars to the fore and the band … Continue reading

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Album review: IAGO BANET – Iago Banet

Iago Banet - Iago BanetRazor Edge Records [Release date 07.11.2o] Anglo-Spanish guitarist Iago Banet has all the right credentials for an acoustic guitarist. He’s Galician born (in the North West of Spain) and is equally at home on acoustic and electric guitar, though this … Continue reading

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Feature: SLIM CHANCE The Phoenix Tapes, track by track

slim chance the phoenix tapesTHE PHOENIX TAPES is a collection of fourteen previously unreleased tracks recorded by Slim Chance since its reincarnation some 10 years ago. Originally posted as a series on YouTube in the last part of 2020 to raise spirits in lockdown, … Continue reading

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The Electric Muse Revisited: The Story of Folk into Rock and Beyond – book review

folk book - omnibusThe Electric Muse Revisited:

(The Story of Folk into Rock and Beyond) by Robert Shelton, Dave Laing, Karl Dallas & Robin Denselow

(Omnibus Press). Updated new chapters by Robin Denselow
Published 27th May 2021

Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

The Electric Muse first came out in 1975, so an update is certainly well due. Hopefully, this very enjoyable and informative book will convince any doubters that the genre is still alive and developing further as always. Since then there has been Rob Young’s superb “Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music in 2011, which took a very wide-ranging and imaginative view, with a distinctly Wyrd/Wicker Man vibe as an added twist.

This new edition doesn’t have quite such a wide-ranging perspective, but the two parts – original text and new/updated material – work really well together in looking at the past, present and future.

First off, though – what is Folk music? One of the key elements in the story told in “The Electric Muse” are the different perspectives on this and the factions who promote them. Basically, we’re talking about the Traditionalists – who tended to be pretty purist hardcore about what material is sufficiently proven to be in the “Trad. Arr.” Category, what instruments are allowed, and how they should be sung. Next up, the Revivalists aren’t quite so intense but basically come from the same place, though with an emphasis on rediscovering & reviving old material. And then there are the Innovators, who see Folk not only as an ongoing form but also take a global perspective, rather than the narrowly British scope of the Trad brigade.

But in these terms, “Folk” is basically a convenient term for any mainly acoustic-based music, whether the songs are written by the singer or traditional. When the music first started to really take off in the late ’60s, artists like Donovan, Roy Harper, Al Stewart and the Incredible String Band for example (or Tim Buckley, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell across the Atlantic) weren’t really much about folk at all, but folk clubs provided a rare outlet for their type of music (until the promoters caught up, of course).

An early chapter analyses the American folk revival of the late ’50s, noting in passing how the dead hand of the BBC and the “performer’s rights” closed shop meant that musical trends nearly always started in the US before filtering their way to the UK. Peter Paul & Mary are a good example, combining various forms like Bluegrass, Blues and Country influences, to have a series of huge hits, although often the end results leant too far to the bland pop side of acts like the New Christy Minstrels. Equally, songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” underlined the symbiosis between the folk scene and the rapidly growing 60’s protest movement.

Indeed, the foundations of the Folk Rock scene are decidedly American, with huge key events like Dylan going electric and the massive pop success of groups like the Byrds covering Dylan songs. The perspective of this book is decidedly “Brit-centric”
There are some really fascinating chapters on Fairport Convention (my folk rock favourites then and now), and the subsequent careers of two of the main players, Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson (which unfolds further via Linda Thompson). It’s an interesting editorial decision with the original 1975 chapters, whether to update them with what’s happened since or leave them intact? Personally, I’m glad that the publishers resisted the temptation to be wise after the event/second guess the writer – it’s always much more interesting to see what was written about artists/records at the time, before any dreaded critical consensus has been set in stone.

So it’s quite intriguing to look at a couple of the “Crazy British Individualists” pieces – John Martyn, still pretty “niche” in 1975, but only a year or 2 away from “Solid Air”, the album that would propel him out of the folk/rock orbit, or people like the Incredible String Band or Roy Harper, both decidedly “underground” originally, who’d become major players by the mid ’70s, but have gradually faded into the background since then. Equally a few gaps are left unfilled, like Vashti Bunyan’s surprising omission – but these things have always come down to personal taste: I’d have liked more about Michael Chapman, for example, or maybe a bit more recognition of the Trees/Dr Strangely Strange psych/folk explorations.

The second part of the book continues the story very much to the present day. Taking up where Part One left off with eccentrics, it picks up the story with people like Steeleye Span, Richard Thompson and others who’d made it through from the 60’s scene, before continuing the story with chapters on Folk Into Punk, the New Folk Rock, Global Folk, Folk Big Bands, the Return of the Electric Guitar, And Next, before bringing us up to the present day with a stark assessment of the post-Covid world, and its that was to devastating effect on music of all sorts. My awareness of what’s “new” on the scene only goes up to Seth Lakeman and the Rails, so it’s great to be pointed in the direction of artists like Sam Lee. But of course, as we know now, something was a-lurking around the corner in 1975, well beyond the ken of most folk fans – Punk Rock! Oh how we sneered at the “wimps in woolly sweaters”. As time went on though people like Billy Bragg challenged this orthodoxy, emphasizing the DIY/lo-fi aspects of the music and rediscovering how so much of it was the real rebel music of its time, before being censored into blandness. The Pogues briefly demonstrated how to combine old and new folk values with a tune to die for and a serious political edge as well.

There’s a fascinating section on the Global Village project, initiated by Simon ‘Afro Celt Soundsystem Sommerton’, largely inspired it turns out by Joe Strummer wanting to know why UK folk singers would roll over for anything “authentically American” but didn’t pay much attention to their own roots music. Interesting too to read about some of the disagreements that arose over ‘authenticity’ versus innovation.

So hopefully the old real ale and shaggy pullover clichés about folk music are long gone now. The breadth of styles and artists discussed in the book show the vibrancy and adaptability of the form, now with half a century behind it. You won’t find Coil or many of the more far out acts from “Electric Eden” here, but no matter, I’ve got a mass of other leads to follow from here.

You can buy the book here: or at any other book outlets

About the authors:

Robin Denselow has written about folk, world and rock music for The Guardian and other publications, and worked as a reporter and producer for BBC TV and radio, covering politics and music. He is the author of When the Music’s Over: The Story of Political Pop.

Karl Dallas was a regular contributor to Melody Maker and other publications and was the author of three books, including Singers of an Empty Day. He died in 2016.

Dave Laing was editor of Let It Rock magazine, author of Buddy Holly, The Sound of Our Time, Hail Rock’n’Roll, and a trustee of the folk music charity Square Roots Productions. He died in 2019.

Robert Shelton was folk, rock and country critic for The New York Times and a regular music reviewer for The Times. He wrote five books including The Country Music Story, the biography of Josh White, and edited Woody Guthrie’s
Born to Win. He died in 1995.

All words by Den Browne, you can read more on his author profile here:

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Album review: GNOSS – The Light of the Moon

GNOSS - The Light of the Moonwww.gnossmusic.com [Release date 07.05.21] Gnoss originally formed as a duo in 2015 at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, consisting of Aidan Moodie (vocals, guitar) and Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin), before being joined by Connor Sinclair (flute, whistles) and Craig Baxter … Continue reading

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News: ASIA, ANTHRAX, TOBY HITCHCOCK, GENESIS (May 2021)

John Wetton-AsiaAsia (John Wetton pictured above) are celebrating their 40th anniversary by releasing a 5CD boxset ‘The Reunion Albums: 2007 – 2012′ through BMG Records on 11 June. Darkthrone release their new album ‘Eternal Hails’ through Peaceville Records on June 25. … Continue reading

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Dropkick Murphys: Turn Up That Dial – Album review

Dropkick Murphys Turn Up That DialDropkick Murphys – Turn Up That Dial (Born & Bred Records)

All formats

Out 30 April

Dropkick Murphys pay homage to their influences with tunes that meld punk rock with the sounds of the Irish diaspora. The new album is a welcome return to form says Nathan Brown.

If you ask anyone to provide an example of Celtic Punk then, after The Pogues, many people’s “go to” would be Boston’s Dropkick Murphys – and rightly so. They have been at the helm of the rise of this genre Stateside for the past few decades, having appeared in 1996.

The Dropkick Murphys had a definite punk and Oi influence (especially on their first album) and at times are quite rocky but alongside the usual guitar, bass and drums, over the years the Dropkicks have brought in more and more traditional irish instruments like tin whistle, accordion, banjo and mandolin. They also use bagpipes. Not the Irish Uilleann pipes but the Scots highland bagpipes. Whether or not they were the first no-one will know, but they were the first to be noticed and paved the way for punks with bagpipes. Aside from being Oirish and proud (remember Boston Irish are more Irish than anyone born on the island) the Dropkick Murphys strong sense of identity has always been entwined with trade unions and the working man.

From the outset this album is a bit of a love affair with The Clash. The album title, the font, the ghetto blaster cover (as if lifted straight off Joe’s shoulder): it’s all evocative of The Only Band That Mattered.

Turn Up That Dial starts off with a jaunty rocky accordian and penny whistle led tune which is a slab of prime Celtic Punk. They pay tribute to the singles that influenced them as youngsters, “3 minutes of fury I wish wouldn’t end…you were our sound, you were angry loud and raw” and the rebellion contained within: “We’ll never be your servants and we’ll never be your fodder”. It’s classic DKM with a rousing singalong crew chorus with the penny whistle shrieking away as part of the Celtic wall of sound.

L-E-E-B-O-Y is their tribute to their current bagpipe player. They have form for this, the Spicy McHaggis Jig (a favourite at gigs) being their tribute to their former piper who also gets a name check in this song. From the very outset, the bagpipes have been a part of the trademark Dropkick Murphys sound. With thundering drums, a chuggy guitar sound and the pipes providing the melody, it is pretty much what you expect from the Dropkicks.

Middle Finger is where the massive influence of The Pogues is writ large with the banjo and mandolin replacing the roar of a Marshall stack. It could easily have been borrowed from the Pogues songbook in their Stiff era if it weren’t for the more rocky vocals of Al Barr and Ken Casey. This tale of obnoxiousness and self defeat – a tribute to the classic punk rock salute of defiance – even borrows the abrupt ending of Sally McLennane.

Queen of Suffolk County again borrows heavily from The Pogues, sounding akin to a mash up of London Girl and Rain Street, with a Boston spin. That they can pull this off is a testament to the talent of the musicians in the band, particularly multi-instrumentalists Tim Brennan and Jeff DaRosa.

Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding is the stand-out song of the album for me (and the accompanying video complete with great caricature animation by Adam Murphy). “Oi! Mick Jones nicked my pudding. Oi! Mick Jones leave my pudding alone” . A tongue in cheek “never meet your heroes” narrative that is put to a punchy Clash meets Sham punk tune. Allegedly based on a true story retold to the band by the producer of the album Ted Hutt, whose post-dinner sweet was swiped by The Clash guitar hero. It’s a song I found hard to get out of my head once heard. I’ve been caught singing my own bastardised version to our cat when she wants feeding. Ahem. Name dropping songs here and there, The Clash love affair is completed with the machine gun snare attack from Tommy Gun punctuating the middle break and Mick Jones style guitar lines twiddling away in the soundscape. This stands out as a punchy fun tune. Not for those who’ve had a sense of humour bypass. Playing to one of their strengths, when they get it right these Barroom Heroes can pump out a good rabble rousing shoutalong tune.

HBDMF starts like a whistful misty eyed folky about celebrating your mates’ birthdays but quickly turns into a piss take of childlish, attention seeking self indulgence…which is pretty much a summary of what makes social media selfie culture tick. Happy Birthday Mother Fucker…don’t milk it!

After an anthemic start driven by the drone of the bagpipe Good As Gold ups the ante for a fast punky tribute to the power of a good record to lift your spirits. I am sure The Clash were among the bands on their mind when they write this one.

Smash Shit Up is not too dissimilar to one of the bands more well known tunes Shippin’ Up to Boston in the way the accordian and the pounding drums work along with the obligatory singalong chorus. “I wanna be a rebel, I wanna smash shit up”…don’t we all! No sign of these old hands growing up.

Chosen Few is something of a love song to the Dropkicks beloved “Good ole’ USA, Home of the Free”. The song outlines the idiocy of the Trump response to Covid (“It’s just another flu”) and pokes fun treating their former president as a petulant child “No more silly temper tantrums, let’s all just behave”. When they sing “For our democracy to work we’ve got to see it from both sides. Stop pointing fingers shut your mouth and compromise.” I find it perhaps a little naive and simplistic. Democracy is about disagreement, and whilst finding some form of compromise solution is desirable, if it means ceding to white supremacists that’s storing up a whole load of trouble for later.

City By The Sea is yet another folky number, a love song to their native Boston, in case you forgot how much they love that place and its “salty knuckleheads”.

The slow haunting penny whistle, banjo and accordian of Wish You Were Here winds the album down as a closer. The melancholy feel is fitting for a song that is a tribute for singer Al Barr’s late father. As co-vocalist and founder member Ken Casey said “We’ve never ended an album with a slow song, but we had to end it with a tip of the cap to pay our respects to Woody and so many others. It’s a moment to stop, count our blessings, and remember those who we’ve lost, including the 400,000-plus people to this virus.”

The album is a welcome return to form for Dropkick Murphys, who had been at risk of falling into the trap for many long serving bands of releasing albums with a few stand out songs but too much filler.

Pre-order link.

More info:

~

Words by Nathan Brown. Check out his Louder Than War Author Archive.

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