The first reviews of 2022 seem to have a common theme: these are the reviews of the golden voices. Look at the list:
Morten Alfred Høirup,
Gillian Frame and
they all released stunning albums highlighting their unique vocal talents. In this review we continue this theme as
Shane Ó Fearghail
is another one blessed with a golden voice.
Shane is a singer-songwriter, born in Dublin but now living in Vienna. He has released 3 albums until now: The Watcher & The comet (2009), Everything You Need (2012) and They Might See Dolphins (2016). His latest full-length album is called Born From Tradition, and it is his most intimate album by far.
Before I go deeper into Born From Tradition I want to dive into Shane’s back catalogue a bit. For the most part, there isn’t a note of folk to be heard. But I decided to ignore that small fact, as I loved what I was hearing. His first album, The Watcher & The Comet, is an indie-pop pearl. it contains alternative pop songs, reminding me of bands like
The Blue Aeroplanes,
and especially Crowded House,
but in this case sung by the singer-songwriter nephew of Jim Diamond (
or Feargal Sharkey (
). Songs like Round The Hardway; All Your Features; the power ballad Satellite (with a cool touch of
over it); Grace (with a stroke of
); actually the whole album is a must-have for fans of this style of music. Songs like Jesus I can Try; Mermaid (The Atlantean lullaby); and The Hero Of Waterloo showcase Shane’s love for storytelling ballads, something I will come back to later.
As an ’80s teen there is another thing I love about The Watcher & The Comet, its distinctive 80’s guitar sound. Listening to Shane’s first album makes me want to grab an old
or early Coldplay LP just to stay in the same vibe. Especially Mermaid (The Atlantean Lullaby) is a beautiful cross between Crowded House and Coldplay.
That specific 80’s sound is almost gone on the follow-up albums: Everything You Need Is Here (2012) and They Might See Dolphins (2016). Instead, we hear a cleaner sound, more in the direction of
with occasional string sections that seem to come straight from a later
album. Just listen to Who Came First, (the first song on Everything You Need Is Here) and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
You will hear the first folk influences pop up in songs like Hey Little Sister and It’s Up To You on Everything You Need Is Here. The folk influences become even more apparent on the album They Might See Dolphins. Just listen to Read Between The Lines, Chalk, but especially Faerie Tree (hello
and you will hear the Irish folk heritage clearly shining through.
BORN FROM TRADITION; A SINGER-SONGWRITER BALLADEER
Having said that, it is still a big step from the first three albums with their alternative band sound to the solo singer-songwriting balladeer Shane becomes on Born From Tradition. So I had to ask about it: What made him venture into his Irish musical heritage?
– ‘Well it starts with my granny Olive. She was a real Dubliner, a great woman from an older world. Irish and yet distinctly Dublin. The old songs and stories were part of her world and that tradition was passed on to us thankfully.
Born From Tradition, for now, is the closest I will get to the music I was reared on; the songs I learned and sang along to at family sessions; in my granny’s house in Dublin. The album, for me, is the proverbial salmon returning home to the safety of deep rock pools where it was born. Living away from Ireland during this pandemic, the songs on this album brought Ireland home to me. They are a celebration of my ballad background, my family, and our culture.’
I said in the intro that Shane has a love for storytelling ballads. Well, the Irish balladeer steps forward right away in the opening song I like It When You Try. Lyrics like: ‘We can talk about anything, cars, and cigarettes, but you don’t smoke and I don’t drive’ are typical singer-songwriter lines. Sometimes observative, sometimes personal, sometimes tongue in cheek, and effortlessly shifting from one to the other with every well-placed word. Lyrics like: ‘Sitting here looking for someplace to find; a place in myself where I have peace of mind; looking at faces for places to see; the wind in my hair; the breeze blowing easy’ (Roll On The Wind) remind me of
and his ability to weave sentences together in exactly the same way as Shane does.
Lyrics were always important to Shane, but on Born From Tradition, they come to the foreground even more. That is because the well-arranged pop sound of the earlier records is broken down to a single acoustic guitar melody. A lone violin, mandolin, accordion, or recorder is carefully placed in the music as if they are delicately illustrating the lyrics.
By the time I reach the third song Reynardine it is clear Shane O’Fearghail’s voice is the main feature on Born From Tradition. His melancholic voice is smooth as silk with a slightly hoarse finish, extremely pleasant to the ear. Combine that with his charming Irish accent and a strong vibrato that he uses to perfection to enhance the melancholic, nostalgic feel of the songs and it is clear why I see his voice as the highlight of Born Of Tradition. The musical arrangements make his voice shine even more. The music is soft, gentle, delicate, and never overpowering the voice. Our Ilona called it the “perfect hammock music” and I could not agree more.
Reynardine is the first of the traditional songs Shane selected for Born From Tradition. It is a song about a werefox luring beautiful women to an unknown fate. This type of historic folk ballad fits perfectly with the material by Shane’s own hand. As do the touching lyrics of Green Fields Of France or the unofficial anthem of Dublin, the folk ballad Molly Malone, clear links to granny Olive and the Dublin she knew. Shane goes even deeper into his Irish heritage with the Gaelic songs Trasna Na Gcianta and Ná Bí Buartha, songs he wrote together with Róisín Ní Bhriain, a friend of his.
FINDING THE MAGIC WITHIN
Now I have to admit, listening to this album I went through three phases. At first, I fell in love with Shane’s voice. Head over heels actually. How could I not with these lovely songs oozing out of my speakers, filling ymy room with a soft blanket of soothing goodness. But after a while I found myself losing a bit of concentration. The songs, as beautiful as they all are individually, seemed to become one gentle sweet sound that lasted the whole album. I was missing a moment of contrast, like a song similar to Faerie Tree from his previous album, just to shake things up a bit.
But then came phase three (!), and with it the true magic of Born From Tradition.
As I started diving into the lyrics the time suddenly flew by. Gone was my wish for contrast. Reading the lyrics Shane wrote, looking up the history behind the traditional songs he chose, made me realize Born From Tradition sounds exactly as it should. Shane put every side of himself into this record. Not only his memories of granny Olive and her Dublin; but also his respect for his Irish heritage; his personal views on the crazy world around us. All of a sudden I did recognize the build-up of this record. Not a build-up in the music as I was expecting, no, it was there in the themes Shane selected.
The first songs I Like It When You Try and Roll On The Wind are melancholic love ballads as only the Irish can sing them, full of longing for a lost love and the green fields of home.
With Reynardine, Trasna Na Gcianta, The Green Fields Of France, Molly Malone, and Ná Bí Buartha Shane pays homage to his Irish heritage. On the last bit of the album, the socially critical singer-songwriter comes out. It starts with Anyway, arguably the most beautiful ballad on Born Of Tradition. Sharp, perfectly sung, eenunciating e-ve-ry single word. I can only describe it as singer-songwriter magic. The lyrics are so strong: ‘Seáni was a poor one; grew up on a steel spoon; looking for a way out…‘ ‘turns out he’s the lucky one; he’s not the friend of a pistol or the bullet from a gun…‘ These words make my arm hairs stand on end. The poignant guitar melody makes it even better. What a song. It is followed by another razor-sharp singer-songwriter gemstone: New England. The message in this song is even stronger than in Anyway. So strong even that it will go too far to discuss in this review, instead I’ll just leave a link here to a blog Shane wrote about this song.
The last song on Born From Tradition ends the album as if it was a movie score. Raglan Road is the perfect end score to Born From Tradition. An odd comparison I know, but I can’t find a better one to explain it. It is just the twisted way my musical mind works I guess.
All in all Born from Tradition is a beautiful album with many interesting layers. A singer-songwriters delight. And the good news is, there is more to come.
On Bandcamp Shane already released an EP called Acoustic. According to Shane: ‘A collection of acoustic demo’s from previous albums or songs that are coming down the tracks. As for a follow-up on Born from Tradition: -‘I will do a follow-up Irish album soon, with more songs and Irish ballads. But that is next year or the year after. For now, I am concentrating on a new album which will be an uptempo Irish Appalachian affair. Due for a summer release 2022.
Well, speaking for myself, I can’t wait!
Cover art: Sabine Mann | sabinemann.Design
Picture: Sabine Mann
Of lilting, friendship and the Danish Scene
When we started CeltCast, our roots were in the pagan folk scene, but quickly we discovered how diverse and beautiful the European folk scene is. In the last two reviews, we explored the talent-filled and vibrant Scottish folk scene, now we turn our attention to the smaller but equally vibrant Danish folk scene. Over the years we made many friends in that scene. One very dear to our heart is Mia Guldhammer and we are happy to introduce her latest musical project to you all. Not only because we love Mia, but also because Tral, Tråd & Traditioner is a fun, good mood album, the lilting in it addictive as…well..folk (!?), and because Morten Alfred Høirup a vocal revelation for those who don’t know him.
So without further ado we give you: the review of Tral, Tråd & Traditioner.
Mia Guldhammer & Morten Alfred Høirup – Tral, Tråd & Traditioner (2021) Review
In every scene you have certain people who seem to part of every band you know. In Holland the names Lies Sommer and Sophie Zaaijer come to mind. In Germany it’s
Fabi, and in Denmark, obviously, one of them is
At CeltCast, Mia is mostly known as the leading lady of the medieval folk band
but she also is the lead singer of the ‘electrophonic folk orchestra‘
and she teamed up with the French folk band
Dour/Le Pottier Quartet
(Not to be confused by the Norse jazz-pop band with the same name) a group that mixes Scandinavian folk vocals with a classical chamber music feel and a lovely Eastern European improvisation style. (find a link to a concert of them
Mia’s latest collaboration is with Danish folk guitarist and singer
Morten Alfred Høirup
and as always, the result is something special.
Before we dive into Tral, Tråd & Traditioner let’s further introduce Morten Alfred Høirup. Just like Mia, this composer, guitar player, singer, and folk radio DJ is a well-known face in the Danish folk scene, but has also built up a following in the American roots music scene. He is, or has been, a member of several folk groups, some more traditional Danish, some more adventures, mixing 50’s style swing with folk, explaining Morten Alfred’s popularity in the American roots scene. I’ll start with the more traditional groups first. Both are trios that play melodic accordion-oriented Danish balfolk. We have
the Gangspil trio
(2012 – 2017) and
trio Jensen, Bugge & Høirup
(still active). The Jensen, Brugge & Høirup trio feels the most traditional of the two I listened to. The Gangspil trio sounds a bit lighter, leaning slightly less on the distinctive sound of the accordion, but both are nice balfolk albums.
Two sides Morten Alfred’s music
Then there is Morten Alfred’s swing-jazz/ Scandinavian folk side. Again I found two bands on Spotify:
is the more laid-back, easy listening of the two. The other, the
American Café Orchestra,
will challenge the listener a lot more. The basis is also laid-back swing folk, but quite often it has a hidden sting: an experimental approach that will challenge the listener. Songs like Rain, Egyptian Domino Dance, or Grey Brothers’ Holiday are well worth checking out for the more adventurous folk fan.
Morten Alfred has also been involved in bands I didn’t find on Spotify, such as the duo
Fin Alfred & Morten Alfred
with his father. Furthermore, he forms a duo with American Café Orchestra fiddler
and he has been playing in the Danish fiddle and guitar duo,
Haugaard & Høirup
from 1998 till 2008.
So after this impressive introduction, the big question is: what will the partnership with Mia Guldhammer bring? A traditional Danish accordion sound or something more in the direction of the intriguing folk jazz bands Morten Alfred is part of?
The first notes of Brudegaverne/Lybekkeren/Altergang make me say traditional, but without the accordion. The song is upbeat, and strong in its simplicity. A voice and a guitar, that is ALL you get here -OK, and a choir joining in at the chorus but that’s just a ‘minor’detail-. You don’t need much more anyway. Mia and Morten fill up the whole room perfectly, their voices are a match made in heaven, the rhythm guitar is exquisite, and that choir is pure genius.
The quality of Mia’s voice is well known, but Morten Alfred has a voice that easily equals hers. He proves so on Sorgen/Håbets Dans. Strangely enough, he rarely sings in any of the bands I listened to while doing my research, so some may be surprised to hear the quality of his voice. Just like Mia, Morten Alfred has an accomplished, warm, and soothing voice. A pleasure to listen to. The harmonies he and Mia sing together on Sorgen/Håbets Dans are like a warm blanket. Pure bliss. And the lilting at the end of the song feels like vanilla ice on a hot chocolate cake. So smooth.
I’m also glad that Morten Alfred’s rhythm guitar playing is one of the features of this album. The part of the rhythm guitar is quite often overlooked, overshadowed by the soloists, but it is such an important part of a band. Highlighted as it is on this album you can hear how Morten Alfred’s playing fills up the room, how his rhythm has groove, how it drives the music, and how he effortlessly creates a smooth musical blanket on which the voices and soloists can shine. That’s the magic of a good rhythm guitar player.
Hold on, did you say ‘lilting end’ a few lines ago? Yes, I did. But I’ll let Morten Alfred and Mia explain that themselves:
-‘ When we first met in Copenhagen in 2018 and started making music together, it seemed like we were missing an instrument to take the melody now and then. But as soon as we had that thought, we realized that we could just
‘lilt’ the melody, just as we’d each been doing so often when singing alone at home. We quickly learned that we didn’t need more than our voices, a guitar, and some catchy material to work with.’
And boy does it work! We have Polka Umulius to prove it! This, the third song on Tral, Tråd & Traditioner, has to be my favorite song of the album, maybe my favorite song of the last few months! I have had this as an earworm ever since I first listened to it two weeks ago. The song also answers whether Morten Alfred and Mia would go traditional or folk-jazz on this album. Both, actually! Polka Umulius is a traditional polka, but it is also jazzy, upbeat, cheeky…actually the most fun you can legally have on a dance floor. Ánd it is a lilt from start to finish. I love this. I truly love this! Put this song on and you instantly have the summer sweeping through your living room. A song like this should not be allowed without a “will cause addiction” warning on the package. That’s all I need to say about it!
But we have to carry on, there are more treasures to be found on Tral, Tråd & Traditioner. The following song: Hvordan Vil Du Forsørge Jer greats us with a cool jew harp /guitar intro. Although Mia and Morten Alfred said they only needed good songs, a guitar, and their own voices to fill up the CD, they díd invite their friends over for some additional musical coloration. The mouth harp solo in this song for instance is really cool, and there are more moments like that on the album. There is the violin following Mia’s lead vocals in Polka Umulius. There is the mouth harp solo on Hare Løb, with a vocoder no less. As if
temporarily stepped into the folk scene. In Åh Min Nikolaj/Russeren/Den 2. Russer you’ll hear an overtone flute flutter through the music, giving the song a cool pagan folk feel, not to mention the smoking violin solo in the second part of that song. But it is all tastefully mixed in the music. The overall feel of the CD stays that of two folk balladeers performing right there in your living room. And it is THAT sound that makes this album so special. That magical harmony between the voices and the guitar. Co-producer and studio technician
managed to record that magic perfectly, so huge kudos to her.
Morten, Mia and Tapani Varis performing Varis Hare Løb
Well, I think that sums up Tral, Tråd & Traditioner quite nicely. Mia and Morten Alfred have created a warm traditional singer-songwriter folk album with a lovely cheeky swing jazz touch to it. Really original in its approach and really laid-back at the same time.
One of my big wishes is to be allowed in a studio or rehearsal room once and witness an album being born. To see the whole process involved, especially the creative part. Well, that wish has come true. Tral, Tråd & Traditioner feels like we have been invited to the studio with Mia and Morten Alfred. You will hear all the fun ideas they had; all those “we can’t do that!” moments, that normally never seem to survive the mixing process, have been kept in. This Making Tral, Tråd & Traditioner a boost of energy, a splash of good cheer, and an awfully entertaining CD.
The Ledger: The beauty of Scottish folk tradition
Ever since the Luminosity review, I have been a fan of the Scottish band Back of the Moon and its members. Two of them, Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame together with Mike Vass have recorded a beautiful album filled with 10 traditional folks songs from Scotland. I was really looking forward to this review, as Findlay and Gillian are truly talented musicians with beautiful voices. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would become a true journey into the rich history of Scottish folk music. A journey that I enjoyed intensely.
Please join me in discovering this beautiful album and the story behind it. As always, the review is just oneclick away.
Findlay Napier & Gillian Frame with Mike Vass – The Ledger (2020)
A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure of reviewing Luminosity, the brilliant album of the Scottish folk band
Back of the Moon.
It was at that point that I fell in love with the voice of lead singer Findlay Napier. Back of the Moon went their separate ways two years after the release of Luminosity, but it didn’t stop the former bandmembers from making music.
for instance released a couple of solo albums: VIP: Very Interesting People in 2015, the EP Very Interesting Extras (2016>, Glasgow (2017), and quite recently It IS What It Is. Especially the 2017 album Glasgow is still a firm favourite within my record collection.
Findlay isn’t the only former Back of the Moon member that I’ve been following. Although not involved in this particular project, some of you may have read my
of the folk concept albums Findlay’s brother
has released over the years. And to keep it all in the family, Findlay’s wife,
released a lovely album of her own called Pendulum (2016) that I also had the pleasure of
Given how much I love all the albums by this musical family – and their friends-, you can imagine how much I was looking forward to hearing The Ledger. Little did I know it would become a journey into traditional Scottish folk music. A musical journey I enjoyed a lot!
So what’s the story behind The Ledger? In this case, it is easiest to let Findlay Napier explain it himself:
-‘Every week in the late 50s and early 60s The Scotsman published a traditional Scottish folk song: lyrics and melody alongside an explanatory article. My Grandfather cut them out and pasted them into an old ledger. In early 2018 Gillian, Mike, and I whittled over sixty neatly cut and pasted songs from the ledger down to the songs you hear on this recording. At first, we searched for a theme but in the end, we chose the ten we liked singing the most.
The Ledger is best enjoyed beside a roaring fire with a dram…, tea and coffee also work…, especially with a dram in them.’ [taken from Bandcamp]
So there’s The Ledger for you. A lovely trip down memory lane recorded by Gillian Frame ( fiddle, lead- and backing vocals), Findlay Napier (guitar, high strung guitar, lead, and backing vocals),
(tenor guitar, fiddle, and music box) together with
Bonnie George Campbell is the song that opens this album and indeed it feels like a warm fire on a winter’s evening. Now I already told you, I just love Findlay Napier’s singing. His voice feels so emotional, it has such a beautiful timbre, his technique seems so effortless, that his vocal chords always seem to make a direct connection with my heart. He manages to add meaning to every word he sings, making him the ultimate singer/songwriter in my opinion. Combine that voice with some delicate guitar -, and bass playing, add the beautiful second voice from Gillian Frame, and you get a song that feels timeless. Call me weird but Bonnie George Campbell actually feels like home.
That comforting feeling of coming home is something that stays with me throughout this whole album. Findlay, Gillian, and Mike have managed to capture the feeling I would have had visiting my grandparents as a young kid, playing with the old toys, having that lovely tomato soup only grandma could make. All the songs on The Ledger ooze tradition, but without sounding old-fashioned. Bonnie George Campbell may sound purely traditional, with the next song, the more upbeat Burnie Bushel I can already hear the first cool tweaks I recognize from Back of the Moon’s Luminosity. There is that cool second guitar weaving through the song from the start for instance. Or the catchy fiddle solo Gillian plays halfway through Burnie Bushel. And I haven’t even mentioned that cool high-pitched sound coming in at the end yet, making me think for a second it was a hurdy-gurdy. I love those modern tweaks the ‘band’ has woven into the music. Contrasting, yet also complimenting the warm traditional singing style of Gillian and Findlay.
It is the constant contrast between these modern, contemporary tweaks and the traditional singer/songwriter duet style that is the strength of this album. It is also the reason why I started looking up the songs played. It made me curious how other artists jhad done it. It also made me curious about the history of all these songs. The first time I listened to Baloo Baleery for instance I made a note about the cool music box intro it had. It makes the song feel warmer, more tender I wrote, not knowing it is actually a Scottish lullaby. That clearly explains the music box AND the warm feeling of this song. The ‘band is extremely good at giving the lyrics exactly the right musical feel. The next song Van Diemen’s Land proves that straight away.
Van Diemen’s Land is an old transportation ballad. It tells the story of a poor fellow caught for poaching who was transported to Van Diemen’s land (New Zealand) only for that reason. True to the text the music has a slightly dark, eerie feel over it. Not too much though, only subtle. You hear it in the slight echo used on Gillian’s voice, the equally subtle distorted effect used on Findlay’s backing vocals, the weird, cool-sounding, high-pitched plucked strings (is that the high strung guitar Findlay Napier is credited with playing?), the build-up of it all. Every aspect adds to the sadness captured so perfectly in the lyrics written some 200 years ago.
Barbara Allen is a nice comfy folk song, luring you into the Highlands. It gave me the feeling I was floating adrift over the deep dark lochs and through the hidden glens of bonnie aul’ Scotland. As I said, this album feels so much like a homecoming. And home is a stone cottage hidden in the green shoulders of the Cairngorms. At least while listening to this beautiful seventeenth-century ballad it is.
Come to think of it, one more thing I like about this album is the lack of obvious evergreens. Yes, all ten songs are traditionals, but I’ve personally only heard Jamie Raeburn and Walking All Alane before. Granted, when it comes to Celtic folk music I’m still on a journey of discovery, but still…
Walking All Alane would be the exception that makes the ‘lack-of-evergreen’ rule. The minute you hear the first notes you will recognize it as the tune of Twa Corbies; The three Ravens, but in this case with lyrics narrating about yet another love affair meeting a tragic end.
After declaring my love for Findlay’s voice earlier on, I now have to do the same for Gillian’s too. She tells this tragic story so beautifully. Again the arrangements are amazing as well. The effect on Findlay’s voice creating a certain distance in space and time is so cool. Not to mention the melodramatic string ending finishing the song brilliantly. Candy to the ear, and not only for fans of folk music.
I want to pick out one last song that is recorded on The Ledger: Twa recruitin’ Sergeants. Again a song that goes all the way back to the seventeen hundreds. In those days boys and young men would be ‘tricked’ into voluntary service with the British armies, helped by the prospect of money, the promise of a good life..and maybe a drop or two of the strong stuff.
Now this song was born as a merry march, perfect to impress the unfortunate young lads, and normally it is still played as a jolly sing-a-long. Not on The Ledger. Gillian, Findlay, and Mike deliberately took the tempo out of it and turned it into a melancholic ballad with some truly beautiful fiddling in it.
To me, it feels like they are playing it from the perspective of the same unfortunate youngster, but now at the night before he has to go into battle, hearing the promises of the recruiters ringing in his ears one more time, full of remorse. Or maybe it is from the perspective of a parent? Sitting on the side of a fresh grave, reading the last letter of their beloved son, the words he wrote dancing over and over before their tear-filled eyes. In any case it is beautiful.
‘And it’s over the mountain and over the Main,
Through Gibralter, to France and Spain.
Pit a feather tae your bunnet, and a kilt aboon your knee,
Sae list my bonnie laddie and come awa wi me.
Cover art: Elly Lucas
Pictures: Elly Lucas