Campfire Tales: September 2013

Welcome back! We made it to a second month of our little column - hoo hah! This time round we’ve got a legend, a live album, one from the rockier end of the scale, a debut album or two, and some more tour dates for you. So throw your log onto the flames and we’ll get going.

Kicking things off with the latest member of the ever growing stable of Dan Auberach, Hanni El Khatib releases a mash-up album of dirty blues and heavy rock. It’s no wonder that Jack White is a bit fed up: Dirt In The Head would be an homage to his band(s) if produced by anyone else; as it is El Khatib takes the electric blues blueprint, revs it up and speeds off with it. The first half, the title track, ‘Family’, ‘Skinny Little Girl’, and ‘Penny’ set the stall out quickly - from there it all gets a bit Black Keys plus (‘Low’, ‘Pay No Mind’).

Brit folker Will Varley’s contemporary version of classic folk is just... great. Mainly just him and his guitar there are some great stories (‘Blood And Bone’), a potted history of humankind (‘Weddings And Wars’), and the brilliantly amusing (‘I Got This Email’). Once you get into the meat of the wildly inventive collection of poem-like songs that is As The Crow Flies you’ll be thrilled.

The first live album we’ve looked at comes from Madison Violet. The two singers from Canada have a multitude of nominations in various folk awards categories. With Come As You Are Live they commit their live show to disc. And a pleasant affair it is, with the ambient audience kept to a minimum apart from when they’re participating. Covering the range of their music, from ballads, to foot tappers, and the odd stomper, it’s a good compendium of the duo's best tracks.

Next up is the debut album from London alt-folkers The Lost Cavalry. If you ever wondered what Editors would sound like if they turned their hand to folk then here’s that record. Frontman Mark West has a similar monotone intonation as Tom Smith, even though the music here is a little more grounded. Standouts from this fine debut, Three Cheers For The Undertaker are six minute opus ’Stars Are Ripe’ and the widescreen ‘Desert Tracks’.

Purveyor of British roots-blues Kev Walker releases his third album, Biding My Time, a full thirty years after his second. With its raw, almost underproduced sound, it feels more like a demo than a full release but there’s some excellent guitar work (‘Taking Me For Granted’, ‘Cold As War’) and when he turns the bluesy guitar up full, as on the rollocking party of ‘Biding My Time’, it’s properly excellent. Sadly the other half of the album is made up of lightweight soppy love songs, and is just not very exciting. It’s all for a good cause though (proceeds are going to cancer charities) so give it a go: there are some great additions to your blues playlist here.

Emerging from duo Twilight Hotel another Canadian singer Brandy Zdan, releases her first solo recordings as the EP Lone Hunter. These six songs are all about the voice and to be honest they couldn’t be about anything else. Zdan has a wonderful tone and right from the uncomplicated ‘Mourning Dove’, through the steel guitar of ‘O Where’, and beautiful lament ‘Lone Hunter, there’s not a wasted track.

April Verch returns with her ninth offering, Bright Like Gold and you won’t hear a more 'country' album this year. Actually a fiddler and dancer by trade, Verch alternates instrumentals and vocal-led songs on the tracklist here. It’s all a bit too much as she's seen fit to run to 20 tracks, but there are some pleasures dotted throughout - ‘Raven In The Hemlock’ being a dark example amongst the twee fiddling and banjo.

The venerable Roy Harper returns this month with Man & Myth at the ripe age of 72. The talent and influence of the one of the leading lights of UK folk is undeniable, and he delivers again on album 21. The opus ‘Heaven Is Here’ is like three songs rolled into one epic 15 minute track. There are heavier rock moments (‘Cloud Cuckooland’) and quieter ballads like ‘Time Is Temporary’. After 13 years away this is quite a return.

Crown Electric from Kathryn Williams gently seduces you with its sweet, sensitive melodies, and keeps you with Williams’ soft tones and way with words. ‘Monday Morning’ is a Beatles-esque delight, and if we did song of the month this would be it. Beautiful songs are sprinkled throughout: ‘The Known’, the breezy recent single ‘Heart Shaped Stone’, melancholy ‘Gave It Away’, the dramatic ‘Morning Twilight’, and catchy ‘Countdown’. A truly excellent effort from a member of this country's singer-songwriting royalty.

October is the month when live music goes a bit crazy again after the summer lull. Folk rocker Lissie has a mini tour visiting London, Glasgow and Manchester. The newest darling of country music Kacey Musgraves has three dates lined up (in the same cities as Lissie) and is definitely worth seeing. You can also check out Rod Picott (we’ve got his album coming up next month) as he’s playing a bunch of dates across the UK in October and November. Folksters Ahab are touring the entire country through October; there will almost certainly be a date somewhere near you. Emily Barker & the Red Halo are also going countrywide in October, again there are dates here, there and everywhere. Check individual websites for dates and venues, as there's just too many to list here.

Hanni El Khatib - Head In The Dirt 7/10
Will Varley - As The Crow Flies 9/10
Madison Violet - Come As You Are (Live) 6/10
Brandy Zdan - Lone Hunter 7/10
The Kev Walker Band - Biding My Time 6/10
The Lost Cavalry - Three Cheers 7/10
April Verch - Bright Like Gold 5/10
Roy Harper - Man & Myth 8/10
Kathryn Williams - Crown Electric 9/10

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