FINNY MCCONNELL – THE DARK STREETS OF LOVE TRUE NORTH RECORDS TND779
As founder and band leader of renowned Celtic punk rockers, The Mahones, Finny McConnell unleashed more than 20 albums to the masses, sharing the stage with the likes of the Dropkick Murphys, Shane MacGowan, Stiff Little Fingers, Billy Bragg, The Buzzcocks, Sinead O’Connor, The Damned, and more. Born in Dublin, Ireland, and based in Kingston, Ontario, McConnell has now written and produced his own album, The Dark Streets of Love, a collection of his most intimate musings to date and a love letter to everyone important in his world. Stripped bare with personal lyrics that represent not only his truth, but a truth we can all relate to, the 11-track LP includes covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen (a sensitive version of Atlantic City, released as the first single), the Tragically Hip (Fiddlers Green), Lou Reed (the beautiful Pale Blue Eyes), Shane McGowan (A Pair of Brown Eyes), and even an outtake from an earlier Mahones release – all of which hold deep meaning to the veteran artist. Mixed and engineered by Gene Hughes, this live-off-the-floor release is a rare peek behind the curtain to McConnell’s expansive emotional atmosphere. Other highlights include the emotional Someone Save Me, a wistfully melancholic Stars (Oscar Wilde), the rocking New York City, the intimate honesty of We’re Miles Apart, and a bonus track, Back Home, a passionate song written by McConnell and featuring Nicole Akkordion on the accordion. These are intricately layered reflections on loving, losing, grieving, and loving again that peel away, song by song, one of punk’s most notorious leaders and his distinct point of view. Highly recommended.
THE MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES
Blues music evolved from African American spirituals, work songs, shouts and chants, and has been a massive influence on modern Western music styles. In the 1940s and 1950s, electric blues predominated, with artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. In the 1960s, a remarkable surge of interest in the blues took hold among young white audiences, especially in the UK. This comprehensive new Matchbox Bluesmaster Series explores the roots of a music that has been the back-bone of popular music from rhythm and blues to reggae, rock and roll, Motown and gospel music. This series of seven 6CD sets traces the origins of American blues recorded between 1926 and 1934, when race record companies such as Okeh sent out talent scouts to find black singers, many of them ‘singing for nickels’ on street corners. The songs are sometimes raw and primitive in character, but outstanding performances shine through these recordings captured on 42 original LP albums released by Saydisc Records in the 1980s. These rare originating 78s were provided by several collectors under the editorship of Austrian collector, Johnny Parth, and have here been restored and digital remastered by Nimbus archivist Norman White. The Matchbox Bluesmaster Series releases these recordings for the first time on CD in seven box sets, plus all digital platforms. Putting the music into perspective are the invaluable notes by Paul Oliver, a world authority on early jazz and blues. Along with the work of other field collectors and researchers, we gain a rare insight into the world of black musicians of the day. MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES: SET 3 (MSESET3) features Country Blues & Harmonica Kings 1927-31. This set of 6 CDs includes the second volume of music by the excellent Texas Alexander (Volumes 3 and 4 will appear on later sets in the series). Female blues singers were mostly absent on the first two sets and this is made good here with an album of four outstanding Country Girls. For lovers of blues harmonica (harp in blues-speak) the set starts and ends with albums demonstrating the endless skills of these early players. One of the most outstanding guitarists of his day was Ramblin Thomas who accompanies himself on these exceptional performances. The remaining album is of the good time hokum music of Rufus and Ben Quillan which nicely balances the music of the other albums. Artists here also include Noah Lewis (harmonica), Jed Davenport (harmonica), Lonnie Johnson (guitar), Eddie Lang (guitar), Clarence Williams (piano), King Oliver (cornet), Little Hat Jones (guitar) and Lillian Miller (vocals).
MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES: SET 1 (MSESET1) features music written between 1927-30 and includes six albums – Country Blues – The 1st Generation, Buddy Boy Hawkins, Bo Weavil Jackson, Ragtime Blues Guitar, Peg Leg Howell, and Texas Alexander Vol. 1, featuring one of the most popular blues singers on record with songs such as Corn Bread Blues and the moaning Bell Cow Blues, with Lonnie Johnson. MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES: SET 2 (MSESET2) includes Skip James, Coley Jones & The Dallas String Band, Great Harp Players (with some great railroad harmonica instrumentals, including Palmer McAbee’s frantic Railroad Piece and Freeman Towers’ extraordinary Railroad Blues), Leroy Carr, the mysterious Tommie Bradley-James Cole Groups (good time music such as Adam And Eve – ‘surely must have shook that thing’, often with jug and washboard in the mix), and Charlie Lincoln. These rare recordings reveal the sublime musicianship, inventiveness and exuberance of early blues artists, showing how this music is designed to make people feel better. As well as being of interest to blues enthusiasts and collectors, the Matchbox Series will remind younger people that ‘black music matters’ now more than ever.
AMY SPEACE – THERE USED TO BE HORSES HERE PROPER PRPCD159
Discovered and mentored by folk-pop icon Judy Collins, Amy Speace left her career as a classically-trained Shakespearean actress and has become one of the leading voices of a new generation of singers, blending the best parts of American roots music – gospel, alt-country, folk, classic pop – into her own songs. Born in Baltimore and now based in in Nashville, Tennessee, she has released many critically acclaimed albums and has played at the Glastonbury and Cambridge Music Festivals as well as many other folk festivals around the world. Her songs have been recorded by Judy Collins including The Weight of the World, which was named as the #4 Best Folk Song of the last decade by NYC’s premiere AAA radio station, WFUV. National Public Radio described her voice as ‘velvety and achy’, comparing her to Lucinda Williams. Her previous album, Me And The Ghost Of Charlemagne, followed in the tradition of her earlier work – a collection of exquisite lyrical portraits in miniature. Amy Speace’s latest album, There Used to Be Horses Here. is her most revealing, uplifting and deeply personal. The songs look back on the year between her son’s first birthday and the loss of her father, written directly from her depth of personal experiences – childhood memories, coming of age in New York City, and losing a parent while learning to become one.
Many of the subjects are heavy but this isn’t a sad record. Propelled by a playwright’s eye for detail, a performer’s gift of vocal delivery, a poet’s talent for concise writing, and the extraordinary musicianship of collaborators, The Orphan Brigade, this is perhaps Amy Speace’s finest work yet. There Used to Be Horses Here sets Speace’s majestic voice to symphonic arrangements, yet her songwriting remains intimate and emotional. Her latest single, Hallelujah Train, written with The Orphan Brigade (Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover, Joshua Britt), celebrates the gospel joy of crossing over (watch the video). Other highlights on this eleven-song journey include the beautiful title track, the philosophical One Year, the fondly positive Give Me Love, a cinematic Shotgun Hearts, and the concluding Don’t Let Us Get Sick (‘let us be together tonight’).
PAUL ROBESON – OL’ MAN RIVER RETROSPECTIVE RTS4116
The son of a runaway slave, Paul Robeson was one of the greatest black internationalists of the twentieth century. A top-of-the-class student and outstanding athlete at university, he became a trained lawyer, a remarkable singer and magnetically charismatic actor (he starred in an acclaimed London production of Othello with Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona), as well as outspoken activist even before the Civil Rights movement truly began. Robeson was a pioneer and mentor for later actor-activists such as Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. It’s hard to believe that a single person could encompass so much talent, so many accomplishments, and such political courage. But his fame came at a price. Although many admired Robeson’s talent bravery it wasn’t a good time or place to be black, high-profile and challenging the status quo. By 1960, he had been branded a Soviet apologist and was kept under surveillance by the FBI, banned from travel abroad and scarcely allowed to perform in the United States, becoming almost a nonperson in McCarthyite America. His income plummetted and his name retroactively removed from the roster of the 1918 college All-America football team (it was only fully restored in 1995, nearly 20 years after his death).
Between 1925 and 1961, Paul Robeson recorded nearly 300 songs, from spirituals such as the achingly beautiful Steal Away and Were You There in 1925 to classics such as Ol’ Man River from the film Show Boat in which he starred in 1936. His repertoire spanned many styles, including Americana, popular standards, classical music, European folk songs, political songs, poetry and spoken excerpts from plays. This superb collection from Retrospective features 56 of his finest recordings made between 1925 and 1945 – more than two and a half hours of music. The many highlights include I Still Suits Me (with Elizabeth Welch), Hoagy Carmichael’s Rockin’ Chair and Lazybones (two of many tracks featuring the Ray Noble Orchestra), the traditional Shenandoah, a sublime Mood Indigo, Just A-Wearyin’ For You, Scottish folk song An Erisky Love Lilt, and King Joe (with Count Basie and his Orchestra). Robeson’s rich bass voice brings wit as well as gravitas and poignancy to these iconic songs, making this a worthy tribute to one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable and influential performers.
CHARLES TRENET – LA MER RETROSPECTIVE RTR4212
French singer-songwriter Charles Trenet composed the music and the lyrics to hundreds of songs, including La Mer, Boum! and Y’a d’la joie in a career that lasted well over sixty years. Growing up in Perpignan, he devloped interests in painting and poetry, and many of his songs would later refer to his surroundings such as places near Narbonne, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean coast. After studying art in Berlin he moved to Paris in the 1930s, working in a film studio and joining up with the artists in the Montparnasse neighbourhood. He performed with the Swiss pianist Johnny Hess as ‘Charles and Johnny’ at various Parisian venues, started recording and appeared regularly on the radio. After his national service, where he earned the nickname ‘Le Fou chantant’ (The Singing Fool), Trenet began his solo recording career in 1937. Like many other artists of the time, he chose to go on entertaining the occupying forces rather than sacrifice his career during the Second World War. After the end of hostilities, he moved to the United States for a few years where he quickly became a success, meeting Louis Armstrong and becoming a long-lasting friend of Charlie Chaplin. He was also an actor and writer of six novels. Along with Chevalier and Piaf, he was the most celebrated French vocalist of the 20th century. His poems made natural lyrics and his songs displays a gift for melody and instinct for rhythmic emphasis that made him a composer of great imagination and vitality.
His best-known song, La Mer, has been recorded more than 400 times, most famously with English words as ‘Beyond the Sea’ by Bobby Darin in the 1960s. This definitive album was issued as a centenary tribute to the inimitable chanson serenader, with 27 of his finest recordings, headed by the immortal La Mer. The ever-flamboyant Trenet had a light baritone voice of individual, caressing softness, and impeccable diction together with a mastery of microphone technique. Above all, he had charm. This album features Trenet’s most characteristic recordings, nearly all of them his own compositions. As well as his celebrated theme song, La Mer, other delights include La Cigale et la Fourmi (‘The Cicada and the Ant’, with Django Reinhardt), Mes jeunes années (which was sung at his funeral), Douce France, L âmes des poètes (At last! At last!), Que reste-t-il de nos amours? (I wish you love) and the exquisite Vous qui passez sans me voir (Why do you pass me by?). All the songs reflect his unerring ability to touch the emotions, be they happy (Ah! dis ah! dis ah! bonjour) or sad (Seul depuis toujours).
LES COMPAGNONS DE LA CHANSON RETROSPECTIVE RTR4127
Les Compagnons de la Chanson were a French vocal group from Lyon, France, founded during the Second World War (before 1946 they were part of a larger choir, the Compagnons de la musique). The group met Edith Piaf in 1944 and they became her musical protegees. In 1946, they recorded Les trois cloches, by Swiss composer Jean Villard. when Piaf decided to sing Les Trois Cloches with them at the Comedie Francaise, the Compagnons de la Chanson became an overnight success, selling a million copies of the record. The song became a success again in 1959 when re-titled as The Three Bells. International fame grew when when Piaf took them on tour with her to the United States. Other hits followed, including Tom Dooley, Kalinka and The Windmill Song. Good friends with Charles Aznavour, they performed many of his songs such as la Mamma, Que c’est triste Venise and Sur ma vie. Les Compagnons de la chanson made over 350 records in all and gave around 300 concerts a year in Europe and around the world until making their final appearance in 1985 (after their five-year farewell tour!). Compiled by David Lennick and Ray Crick, this album features restorated and remastered transfers from the group’s original 78 recordings. Highlights among the 26 songs include three tracks with Edith Piaf (Les Trois Cloches, Dans Les Prisons De Nantes and Céline), the charming Mona Lisa, Dreams Never Grow Old, Chanson À Ma Bien-Aimée (The Whiffenpoof Song) and the climax of The Three Bells.
DUKE ELLINGTON NIMBUS NI 2511
Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington was one of the towering figures in Twentieth Century American jazz and big band music. In a career spanning more than 50 years he wrote over a 1,000 compositions that included jazz, blues and gospel as well as stage musicals, film scores, and popular and classical orchestral pieces. Many of his songs became standards and his inventive use of the orchestra elevated jazz to an art form. Ellington’s reputation has continued to grow since his death in 1974 and in the opinion of Bob Blumenthal of The Boston Globe, ‘In the century since his birth, there has been no greater composer, American or otherwise, than Edward Kennedy Ellington.’ Starting in 1943, Ellington prepared the first of several annual Carnegie Hall concerts with his own orchestra. For each of these he composed at least one extended work, symphonic in proportion and intention, if not in instrumentation. On this CD, Maurice Peress conducts the American Composers Orchestra in recordings of four of these orchestral suites – the sophisticated Black, Brown & Beige, and his piano concerto New World A-Comin’, as well as two symphonic works not originally written for his jazz band. Black, Brown & Beige, inspired by work songs and spirituals, is here orchestrated by Peress and features soloists Frank Wess (alto saxophone) in the Johnny Hadges role and Richard Chamberlain (trombone).
The lovely New World A-Comin’, also revised by Peress, features Roland Hanna in the Ellingtonian piano part and some fine work by clarinettist Stephen Hart. The boisterous and evocative blues tone poem Harlem, commissioned by the NBC Symphony in 1950, pays tribute to Ellington’s roots. Three Black Kings (‘Les trois rois noirs’) was scored as a ballet for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Left unfinished at his death the music shows no lessening of the Duke’s invention. Jimmy Heath solos eloquently on tenor and soprano saxophones. Each piece reflects a facet of the charismatic Ellington’s genius and they take on an extra sheen when played by a full symphony orchestra.
EDITH PIAF – LA VIE EN ROSE RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4137
France’s greatest popular singer and ‘the soul of Paris’, Edith Piaf, is still revered as an icon decades after her death. Her voice had a distinctive vibrato filled with raw passion and emotional power so that her singing, even when verging on the melodramatic, wrung every drop of sentiment from a lyric. Her songs were mostly melancholy, dealing with heartache, tragedy and poverty, reflecting her own experiences amid the harsh reality of life on the streets and the dramatic twists and turns of her turbulent life. From humble beginnings in Paris, living with her grandmother in a brothel, singing on the street to avoid prostitution; Piaf’s life, loves and losses only served to make her rise to fame and glory even more triumphant. This double CD celebrates the life and work of the wonderful ‘Little Sparrow’ with a fine collection of recordings made between 1935 and 1957, all skilfully re-mastered. They include classic songs like the million-selling La Vie En Rose (with lyrics by Piaf herself), Hymne a l’amour (dedicated to the love of her life, boxer Marcel Cerdon), Les Trois Cloches (with her protégés, Les Compagnons de la Chanson), and Les Amants de Paris, as well as rarities such as the utterly French L’Accordioniste, Les Amants d’un Jour (lovers for a day), the jaunty La Java de Cezique, and Autumn Leaves (touchingly sung in English). Over two and a half hours of music in all, these evocative performances are timeless and the voice of this fearless yet vulnerable woman continues to mesmerise. Formidable!
JOSEPHINE BAKER – DIS-MOI JOSEPHINE RETROSPECTIVE RTR 4270
Joséphine Baker was a vivacious, vibrantly youthful personality who had a most extraordinary life. Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, she left the USA for France because of racial discrimination to continue her career as a dancer, becoming one of the most celebrated performers at the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un vent de folie in 1927 caused a sensation when her costume consisted of only a short skirt of artificial bananas and a beaded necklace. An idiosyncratic, elastic-limbed dancer, she became an iconic image and a symbol both of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. Funny, sexy and smart, she was adored by famous artists and intellectuals of the era, who dubbed her the ‘Black Venus’. She renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French national after her marriage to a French industrialist Jean Lion and worked with the French Resistance during the Second World War, for which she was awarded the Croix de guerre by the French military for her tireless work as a nurse and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur for her bravery by General Charles de Gaulle. She returned to the United States several times but always refused to perform for segregated audiences.
Joséphine Baker became the first black woman to star in a film, opened her own Parisian cabaret, appeared in an operette (La Belle Creole), made many successful international tours, and visited Britain, appearing on TV’s The Good Old Days and playing the London Palladium. She also adopted a ‘Rainbow Tribe’ of 12 children from around the world. In 1963, she was the only woman to speak at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. This definitive CD collection features 27 remastered original recordings from Baker’s 30s heyday, including her heartfelt theme song J’ai deux amours (‘I have two loves, my country and Paris’), and such favourites as La petite Tonkinoise, Love is a Dreamer, and the title track Dis moi, Joséphine. Most of the songs are sung in her seductively American French – including cheerfully gallicized versions of Cole Porter’s I’ve Got You Under My Skin and Easy To Love – as well as songs in English, such as Fats Waller’s My Fate Is In Your Hands and You’re Driving Me Crazy. Joséphine Baker has a sweet, natural soprano voice and this collection is the perfect introduction to one of the twentieth century’s most endearing, magical and captivating performers.
JOHN MAYALL – THE FIRST GENERATION MADFISH SMABX1140
Born in 1933, John Mayall was a pioneer of blues music for more than 50 years, earning himself the title, ‘The Godfather of British Blues’ as a hugely influential singer, guitarist, organist and songwriter. The elder statesman of British blues is best known as the founder in the 1960s of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, a band which was a finishing school for some of the most famous blues and blues rock musicians of the erahas, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor, Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris, Harvey Mandel, Larry Taylor, Aynsley Dunbar, Hughie Flint, Jon Hiseman, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Andy Fraser (of Free) Walter Trout and Buddy Whittington. Mayall’s ilustrious personnel have sometimes overshadowed his own remarkable abilities as a performer of Chicago-style electric blues. This spectacular 35 CD Limited Edition box set, to be released on 29 January 2021, documents John Mayall’s early years. Not only does it have all the albums from his much lauded formative career but it includes unreleased tracks aplenty. Featuring Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Blue Mitchell, Jon Mark and many more superlative musicians, this mammoth package also contains a beautiful hardback book and much more to please his many discerning fans.
For a short but compelling time in the ’60s and ’70s John Mayall recognised raw talent when he saw it, took it in and nurtured it so everyone thrived and benefitted. Many of the best musicians of the period passed through the hallowed ranks of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and all are on show here in a stunning set crammed with musical highlights. Put together with John Mayall’s full co-operation, the list of contents includes 35 discs – newly remastered versions of the original Decca & Polydor albums – as well as music from seven unreleased gigs, 28 unreleased BBC tracks featuring Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor, an individually signed photograph, two books (including rare photos & memorabilia), and two replica posters. Watch the video
FAY HIELD – WRACKLINE TOPIC RECORDS TSCD608
Fay Hield is a core member of the English folk scene and has been acclaimed over the course of her career. ‘Classy and entertaining’ – The Guardian. She is also an academic, lecturing in Music at the University of Sheffield and specializing in the role folk music plays in the construction of communities. With The Full English, a folk supergroup which included legendary players Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and double bassist Ben Nicholls, she toured for two years including many major festivals. The group’s self-titled album on Topic Records in 2013, won Best Group and Best Album at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and earned her a nomination for Folk Singer of the Year. This new album, Wrackline, looks at traditional stories involving the ‘otherworld’ of fairies, ghosts and the animal kingdom, exploring our emotional responses to the space between their reality and our own. Fay Hield (vocals, banjo, percussion) is accompanied by some of the best folk musicians around – Rob Harbron (concertina, guitar, harmonium, percussion, vocals), Sam Sweeney (fiddle, viola, nyckelharpa, percussion, vocals), Ben Nicholls (double bass, vocals) and Ewan MacPherson (vocals, jaw harp).
‘Wrackline is split into 6 themes, including my interpretations of songs from within the tradition and contemporary responses. It’s my first foray into songwriting but it is firmly within the realms of folk music – drawing heavily on traditions but looking at how they are still relevant for us today. Perhaps in these strange times it’s particularly important to understand how stories can help us make sense of the world around us, both the world we can see and also those darker, less tangible things.’ – Fay Hield. Highlights include the title track, where debris on the beach marks the peak of high tide, Hare Spell (taken from Isobel Gowdie’s witch trial confessions of 1662, where she shares this spell to become a hare), Night Journey (inspired by a passage of poetry by Terri Windling on the importance of trusting in the unknown knowing of nature), Sir Launfal (exploring the values of love, loyalty and generosity over lust and vanity), Pig Song (capturing different states of judgement through the eyes of strangers and based on a music hall song), the traditional Sweet William’s Ghost, and When She Comes (returning to the hare theme, looking outwards from the perspective of the hare). The album features sensitive performances of songs that are personal and often poignant. Listen to Hare Spell, the first single from the album.