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Posters advertising the album have begun to appear, suggesting the record com- pany has great expectations. The whole affair is a light-hearted and imaginative marketing ploy, which deserves to get The Jolly Boys some mainstream attention.


Somewhere Down The Road Leola Music TPGCD31

Ralph McTell has been lying low for so long he’s almost dropped off the radar completely but the quality of this – his first studio album in a decade – suggests he hasn’t been idle. His always underrated guitar playing is still in fine shape, his voice has held up remarkably well and the best of the new material match- es anything he was singing in his pomp.

If the muse has been missing it has come back with a vengeance on his affecting love song to the capital The London Apprentice, the stirring sea narrative Around The Wild Cape Horn and the call for conciliation packed inside the weighty The Break Of The Union, a sort of cross between Both Sides The Tweed and Auld Lang Syne.

He hasn’t held back on a supporting cast,

either. While The Break Of The Union per- haps edges worryingly towards overkill on its epic orchestral aspirations, there is otherwise mostly judicious use of the strong array of musicians – including Chris Parkinson’s accordeon (and pan-pipes on Cannabis Creek), Tim Renwick’s electric guitar, John Dowling’s banjo, the Kernow String Quartet (playing a blinder on the unashamedly senti- mental The Girl On The Jersey Ferry) and the Harlech Symphony Orchestra.

The most affecting work here, though, is a trilogy of powerful and affectionate homages to some of his blues heroes – Rev. Gary Davis (Reverend Thunder), Robert John- son (The Ghost Of Robert Johnson) and Jesse Fuller (Somewhere Down The Road). And if you need any more proof of what inspired him in the first place – and seemingly inspires him still –Walk Into The Morning provides it. “I didn’t need to hear a freight train to know that Sonny Terry’s harp/ Was an aching cry for freedom/ Whistling in my dark…”

Great to have you back, Ralph. Don’t be a stranger now… Distributed in the UK by Proper.

Colin Irwin

THE BLACK TWIG PICKERS Ironto Special Thrill Jockey THRILL 249

I am reminded of the late John Fahey who more than once in his early years hid behind a pseudonym so folk might think they were lis- tening to a long lost bluesman from the past. Add surface noise to this CD and you could be listening to any of the string bands from the 1920s and ‘30s, when old-time country music had a regional identity and personality that records were able to capture. The Black Twig Pickers, from South West Virginia, are just 80 years behind the times. The trio sharing fid- dle, banjo, guitar, jaw’s harp and other miscel- laneous percussion instruments, plus the odd vocal, work their way through 15 songs and tunes, all but two of which are culled from the rich heritage of Appalachian music. Unless you read the notes, no one would be able to detect that two of the tunes are originals, the superb Smoker Wedding March with cross- tuned fiddle played with bow and chopsticks, and a fiddle and banjo gem Craig Street Hop.

The trick in replicating old-time music is not to be seduced by the quality of modern record- ing to make every instrument separate, clear and highly compressed, and these guys recorded one take live and produced a fin- ished sound that is as pure as the music they play. The other trick, or talent if you will, is not to be mannered or self conscious with the singing and their vocals are just the right shade of roughness. Only Fire On The Moun- tain leaps out as a well-known tune, and even this has a unique arrangement. Wonderful to be able to add this to the many CDs of reis- sued old-time fiddle music classics and not be able to detect a join. John Atkins

AFRO CELT SOUND SYSTEM Capture 1995 – 2010 Real World CDRW179

Watching Afro Celt Sound System in action again after a prolonged break, at the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Lewis this sum- mer, I was struck how fresh, current and wholesome they remained. They’d emerged, all guns blazing in the mid-1990s to blast away various invisible barriers, musically and culturally, mixing ancient roots of sean nos singing and West African rhythms with what appeared – at this end of the musical spec- trum at least – to be brave cutting-edge tech- nology, rich in beats and electronica.

They deservedly cleaned up – Grammy

Awards and everything – with big, bold, ground-breaking fusions which allowed all the colourful ingredients to shine in a per- fectly natural way and, you’d have thought, opened doors to a multicultural musical revo- lution that, 15 years later, may have been expected to make this 25-track double CD ret- rospective sound at best a quaint product of its time and at worst an irrelevant, dated monolith. That it is neither is perhaps a sweeping indictment of the absence of others willing to grab the baton to pursue further the exciting fusion possibilities beckoning from all parts of the UK and beyond in their wake, while band founder Simon Emmerson was busy mapping out an entirely different but equally fascinating multicultural journey into The Imagined Village.

Iarla O’Lionaird’s voice still sounds myste- riously evocative, surreptitiously soaring from the shadows through exhilarating bursts of Johnny Kalsi’s various percussion exhibitions or James McNally’s flute or Mike McGoldrick,

Afro Celt Sound System

Ronan Browne and Emer Mayock’s uilleann pipes or Moussa Sissokho’s hypnotic talking drum or the lovely kora outbreaks from Kauwding Cissokho and N’faly Kouyate.

Listening to their progress from that

unforgettable Whirl-Y-Reel salvo to the more primitive adventures of Dark Moon and the positively grunge-like beat frenzy of Shadow- man, you get a clearer picture of the ever- more intricate threads that bind them, while an impressive array of guest artists litter the collection. Around 60 singers and musicians are featured, notably Sinéad O’Connor’s famously impassioned vocal on the lament Release, a therapeutic track said to have res- urrected the band after the sudden death of founder member Jo Bruce from an asthma attack in 1997. There are other high profile contributions from Robert Plant (on Life Begin Again), Peter Gabriel (When You’re Falling), Hotel Rwanda singer Dorothee Mun- yaneza (When I Still Needed You), piping deity Liam O’Flynn and Austrian singer Pina Kollars, who duets sensually with Iarla O’Lionaird on Go On Through. It could be argued that the range of styles, influences and interlocking threads are sometimes just too confusingly disparate to make complete sense and – When I Still Needed You apart – they may have lost some focus by the time they reached the Anatomic album in 2005.

But James McNally and Martin Russell have compiled a beautifully packaged and shrewdly programmed collection that proudly showcases a keynote band for the modern era. Let’s hope it fires youthful imaginations suffi- ciently to explore the further plentiful multi- cultural possibilities still lurking out there. – distributor: Proper.

Colin Irwin

JIENAT Mira Jienat JNCD002

One of the things about the music covered in fR is that, unlike most mainstream music, there’s usually more to it than just what you hear. Sometimes, even, the background is more appealing to the mind than the music to the ear, at least until the two come togeth- er, the back-story investing the music with enhanced meaning. For example, imagine if the sound of Sámi joiking came not from small populations of traditional reindeer- herders far north of the Arctic Circle but from some British blokes with a mic in a studio in Milton Keynes. But it doesn’t; whether it’s a

Photo: Judith Burrows

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