Trad & Folk
Artists and Albums
Hello! This page is part of an opinionated overview of Celtic and British folk music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... This is not meant to be taken as a "definitive" resource, but rather as a record of some of the music which has caught my interest. I am always looking for more good music to explore, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.
This is the first page covering the letter "W"
Loudon Wainwright - Yeah, I know he's a Yank. But still...
The Watersons - see artist profile
Sheena Wellington "Hamely Fare" (Greentrax, 2003)
A somewhat genteel, folkie set, featuring Scottish singer Wellington's affectionate versions of several traditional ballads, a haunting new tune by young'un Karine Polwart ("Whaur Dae Ye Lie"), and a brace of songs by Robert Burns, including her version of "A Man's A Man," which was apparently sung at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament. Wellington's a capella performances really stand out -- I think the guitar and fiddle around her on other tracks are a bit sugary... But once you hear the elegance of her voice unaccompanied, you may well be won over. Certainly worth a listen!
A refreshing new sound for the Celtic scene... Scottish piper Gary West performs on the bagpipes, tin whistle and --most notably -- on the less-well known Scottish smallpipes, which have a very distinctive and appealing tone, perhaps a bit more pleasing to the ear than the standard bagpipes (which many casual listeners find a bit, um, irritating). This album has several very striking tunes on it, music that sounds remarkably different than most other Celtic instrumentals you may have heard... Recommended!
This American three-piece band takes once of the more irritating musical styles -- the Scottish marching bagpipers -- and reduces it to its most essential elements: one piper, two set of drums. In doing so, they free themselves from the need to coordinate with a bazillion other players, and create a much more fluid, creative sound... You still have to be really, really into the bagpipe to sit through this one... But if you are really, really into the bagpipe, this is an album you'll greatly enjoy.
A zippy set of accordion instrumentals from this Chicago-based Irish-American artist. Fiddler Liz Carroll and many others join in on lively duets and full-band workouts... Even if you're not a fan of all-instrumental Celtic music, this is an record you may want to check out... Williams has a very distinctive style and an unusual melodic sensibility... I was quite taken with it!
Gentle, playful, naifish, goofy acoustic hippie-Celtic meanderings, tailormade for capering about amid the runestones in one's kilt... It's all very well and fine, except that the emphatic, nigh-inaudible recitation on the 14-minute long "Five Denials On Merlin's Grave" -- a druidic English history lesson -- is a bit much, at least for the casual listener. Still, this is a pretty cute album. Not great, perhaps, but enjoyable in a rarified, willowy kind of way. Considered a classic in Williamson's ouvre.
An unusual offering from an unusual label... Former Incredible String Band-er Williamson puts many poems to music, mostly short works by Dylan Thomas, augmented with original tunes by Williamson, who proves as eccentric, inventive and immediate an artist as he's ever been. This might all seem out of place on the rarified ECM imprint, but he does have an odd, attenuated sensibility that fits in. At any rate, this album is kooky and cool, and Williamson's expansive personality comes through loud and clear... Certainly worth checking out!
Wolfstone "Unleashed" (Green Linnet, 1994)(?)
Yeesh. Synthesizers, thumping drums, a dash of flamenco guitar and a full-band rock sound that drops like a ton of cement are added to the Celtic vibe of this Scottish crossover combo. Pretty much every track on here has something about it that bugs me. Mostly it's the synths, but the vocals are pretty iffy as well, as are the clompy, Steeleye Span-ish rock guitars. The folkie elements do not compensate for the rest of the package.
Wolfstone "This Strange Place" (Green Linnet, 1998)
Easy listening trad. The rock elements have largely been minimized, but the synths remain, more cloying than ever, accompanied by vapid lyrics and saccharine arrangements. Ugh.
Hmmm. This is still pretty scary, but for some reason singer Stuart Eaglesham sounds more appealing on this disc, and there's a proggy feel to it that is strangely seductive...
Wolfstone "Almost An Island" (Once Bitten, 2003)
YEESH. The blandest, most formulaic of crossover arrangements to date... with crunchy, grungy rock guitars added for good measure. Irritating vocals, too. Really, really irritating.
An unusual (and kind of sweet) set by Ireland's short-lived folk-rock Woods Band ensemble. Terry Woods was a veteran of the likewise short-lived Sweeney's Men and a founding member of Steeleye Span; later on in the 1980s, he went on to become a member of the raucous punk-folk outfit, the Pogues. Here, though, he and his then-wife, Gay Woods, were exploring a new style in Irish pop, one markedly different than the prevalent hard rock and trad folk of the times. This CD collects two separate performances -- a 1976 concert in London and a 1978 BBC session with DJ John Peel, the much-revered guru of the British underground scene. Each performance showcases soulful melodic rock with a strong debt to the languid electricifaction of Thompson-ian editions of Fairport Convention (and indeed, Dave Mattacks and Dave Pegg played with them on their London gig). There is a slightly hippie-ish, elves-in-the-woods vibe, but this is clearly more rock than folk; what's most amazing is how much the upbeat '78 sessions seem to anticipate the jangly twee of '80s and '90s navelgazing indiepop... An interesting footnote to both the trad and the rock worlds.
This was the lone solo album by Terry and Gay Woods, originally recorded in 1971, not long after the founding of Steeleye Span. It's okay-but-unremarkable, a familiar mix of stark traditional material and clunky rock-related stuff, lacking the synergy of the Steeleye ensemble. This may be of interest historically, but the later rock-oriented stuff (above) is more engaging.
An absolute delight. The first solo album made by these former members of The Young Tradition following that trio's dissolution several years earlier. Although the group's third member, Peter Bellamy, apparently parted ways with the (unrelated) Woods over their growing devotion to medieval and Renaissance music, they were certainly on to something good, as this lone album demonstrates. Bellamy chimes in himself on several of these songs -- which sound oddly enough quite a bit like classic Young Tradition tunes. But there is quite a bit of variety and rich musical range on here, including some truly exotic high harmonies and plenty of beautifully-realized, impressively researched old songs. This is one of the most striking folk/early music albums I've heard... Well worth tracking down! (Reissued on CD along with the Young Tradition's 1969 album, Galleries, and their earlier Chicken On A Raft EP.)
John Wright "Ride The Rolling Sky" (Fellside, 1993)
Although this album starts off alternating between rootsier, more traditional sounding numbers, and slightly wimpy, overly flowery folk numbers, it does settle into a more evenly paced, robustly rich sound. One thing you can't fault this fellow for is his excellent taste in source material, with songwriters ranging from Stan Rogers, Sandy Denny and Jimmy McCarthy. Many of these familiar tunes may float up and prompt a smile or two from old-time trad fans; his version of "Caledonia" may not have the magical grace of Dougie McLean's original, but the a capella arrangement is an interesting and entirely new approach to this lovely song. This album didn't completely floor me, but it won't disappoint anyone, either, particularly those of a more mellow, melodic folkie temprament.
Martyn Wyndham-Read "Ned Kelly And That Gang" (Leader, 1970)
A fascinating collection of Australian outlaw ballads, written during the days of the convict transports that helped found the nation. Many of these songs are story-songs of legendary outlaws such as Ned Kelly (the subject of an iffy movie that starred Mick Jagger...) and his ilk. Like Nic Jones, Wyndham-Read has one of those voices that conveys great authenticity and command of his material, although with a little more concession to the niceties of melody and tunefulness. I'm not sure, but I suspect this album is long out of print, as are many great albums on the Leader label.
Martyn Wyndham-Read "Emu Plains" (Fellside, 1981)
Continuing his fascination with all things Australian, Wyndham-Read recorded this gorgoeous album of ballads from Down Under. Full of pioneer story-songs, odes to natural spendor, and numerous beautiful melodies. Nic Jones plays fiddle on two tracks; several songs have been added to the expanded CD reissue. Absolutely lovely -- just the kind of folk music I enjoy the most... with stately instrumentation and wonderfully expressive vocals. Highly recommended!!
Martyn Wyndham-Read & No-Man's Band "Where Ravens Feed" (Fellside)
A curious and lovely album of songs written by Graeme Miles, a little-known folk revivalist from Northern England (around Newcastle)... As Miles himself puts it in the liner notes, this album rescues his music from near-total obscurity, reviving numerous tunes he wrote in the late '60s and early '70s, when he was most engaged in his local folk scene. Some of the songs are a bit downcast, about topics such as urban industrialization, the start of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, and also several melancholy odes to the natural beauty of the English countryside. Wyndham-Read and his group certainly do the material justice; his vocals are as expressive and compelling as ever... Graeme Miles can be heard as a performer on old recordings made for the scrappy independent label, Folktrax.
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