Every week Ilona gives me an update of the music that she has added to the CeltCast radio stream, and every week I listen to what’s new, and which records I personally would love to put a spotlight on. It only took a few seconds of listening to the opening track Old Climbing Tree of
debut CD Hours Awake for me to decide that yes, this most definitely will be on the review list. What an A-MA-ZING voice. What a song. I simply love it!! That was the easy part, but then came the harder bit: writing a review.
And so the adventure started. First listening to the album a couple of times, having a look at the booklet for some more info, and last but not least going to Rachel’s website for the last details that I needed to write a nice introduction – or so I thought. Because if you really want to write something about Rachel Croft’s background you have to dig deep. I found no biography, no interview, no Wikipedia entry, nothing. It didn’t matter which angle I tried, I drew a blank. Until I desperately started searching for videos I could use on YouTube. That’s where I finally managed to puzzle a wee bit of her story together. With a big thank you to early fan Martin Waring, who recorded several of the earliest performances that Rachel did in her hometown of York.
As far as I have been able to find out, Rachel Croft is a young singer-songwriter from York. She started her career in her hometown doing open mic performances, gigs in local establishments, in the University of York – where she also studied- and busking on the streets of her hometown. It was in 2014 that Martin Waring, a local photographer, spotted Rachel performing in the streets of York, something he had hoped for after seeing her at an open mic performance. And he recorded her playing the song Songbird, a cover of American blues and jazz singer
Rachel Croft performing Songbird in York, 2014. Recorded by Martin Waring
In the following year he kept track of her and recorded some lovely street performances of her doing classic pop songs such as
Sting’sFields of Gold,
Taylor Swift’sDear John and a really powerful version of
Sam Smith’s Stay With Me. But she also sings a beautiful version of
folk anthem Song for Ireland and the Irish classic The Fields of Athenry. In a studio performance she did for the
Pear Tree Sessions
in 2015 she also recorded two folk classics: The Fields of Athenry again and also The Wild Mountain Thyme. Look them up, they are stunning performances.
In 2016 videos of Rachel’s singer-songwriter street performances kept popping up on YouTube, but also a video of
The Croft Mullen Band,
where she is performing theDuke Ellington
classic It Don’t Mean a Thing together with pianist
: a jazzy song she also nails!
In November 2017 Rachel’s very first single, Only Dreams (a song that luckily also found its way on Hours Awake) came out. She wrote it herself and recorded it with the help of Rachel Brown on cello, Emlyn Vaughan on double bass, bandmate Karl Mullen on piano and synth and
on electric guitar. The latter also responsible for recording, mixing and co-producing it. (Most of them also helped out recording Hours Awake, but I’m getting ahead of myself now.)
Only Dreams is a stunning, stunning song, that takes the best of her pop, singer-songwriter and jazz background. It is a beautiful guitar ballad. It reminds me of
Chris Isaac’sWicked Games, also a fragile yet powerful ballad.
When you only listen to the melody and instruments, Only Dreams is already beautiful, the subtle cello, piano and keys with over it this deep-cutting, soul-jerking, yet still fragile slide guitar notes. But the biggest selling point of Only Dreams is Rachel’s voice. Her vocals are stunning. Plain and simple! Her voice is deep, rich, oozing with soul, and she has perfect control over it. It is hard to describe her voice. Take the deep, rich sound of
Vaya Con Dios‘
Dani Klein, the soul voice of
the singer-songwriter qualities of the early
(at the time of her debut 19) and the rich seventies feel of 70’s stars like
Karen Carpenter or
Helen ‘I am Woman’ Reddy.
Then YouTube went quiet, so I had to go on Facebook. In December 2017 Rachel announced that she had started recording new material with Dan Webster for a full-length album. 95% made possible through crowdfunding, according to a grateful Rachel in the booklet of Hours Awake.
On January 8th, 2018, she performed on BBC Radio York in the Introduction Show hosted by Jericho Keys, and in November 2018 she toured The Netherlands for the first time – and if I’m not mistaken that could well have been her first tour outside of Britain.
In February of 2019, Hours Awake finally came out. This was followed by more and more performances in AND outside of Great Britain. One of them was another short tour in The Netherlands that also brought her to
on September the 22nd, where Ilona and Alex saw her perform falling in love with her music on the spot. A love they happily passed on to me, hence this review.
Hours Awake, a wonderful album
It is not hard to fall in love with Rachel’s music, though. As I said, it already starts with the first notes of Old Climbing Tree.
A deep and powerful string intro makes this song come closest to the music we normally play at CeltCast. Together with the tribal drums, it could be the intro to a
song if it wasn’t for those warm soulful vocals of Rachel coming in, somewhere between Joss Stone, Dani Klein and
Old Climbing Tree is the most Celtic of the songs on Hours Awake: most of the songs hover somewhere between singer-songwriter material, American folk and the contemporary pop music made by artists like Adele – they are jazzy, deeply rooted in musical history, and yet sound modern, contemporary.
It is almost impossible to name one highlight. Hear Me, the 70’s style In Blue or Rainier Day, the jazzy Don’t Feel like Holding On with its lovely violin melody weaving through it, 6,000 miles, they are all equally beautiful singer-songwriter ballads.
If I had to choose my favourites I would pick Can’t Replace Your Perfect, a soulful gospel ballad that wouldn’t look out of place on a Joss Stone or a Croft Mullen band album (yes, Rachel and Karl Mullen still perform together), the powerful opener Old Climbing Tree and of course the wonderful first single Only Dreams. Rachel is on her very VERY best in that song, with a voice so rich and warm that it is capable of melting the chocolate ice cream in your refrigerator.
This young lady has a great career ahead of her. Trust me, in a few year’s time she will be huge, so go see her next time she is performing at Elfia, you won’t regret it. Not at all!
Editor: Iris de Wolf
sleeve art: D. Somme
picture: Rachel Croft
Video of Songbird posted with kind permission of Martin Waring
Welcome to CeltCast!
When it comes to selecting the albums that we want to review Ilona and I work very closely together. Sometimes I find a band and enthusiastically share it with Ilona to get it played on Celtcast, so I am allowed to write a review on it. And sometimes Ilona drops me a line when she finds something really special in her mailbox. And that is just what happened with La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo . It started with one small line: -' Cliff, at the moment I'm chatting with Arthuan Rebis. ' That was it. But five days later I got another message from Ilona: -' Cliff, I'm going to send a very special album to you. It is from the Italian artist Arthuan. He made this record as a Corona lock-down project, and I love it!! ' Well, messages like that made me discover beautiful music of bands like Cara , Vilsevind and Rachel Croft , so my expectations were high! And, as always, I was not disappointed. La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo is an intriguing musical fairytale, calming, peaceful, and meditative. Arthuan Rebis recorded it all by himself, only assisted by narrator Paolo Tofani. So come, let us travel to Italy together. Let's travel to a spring that belonged only to the fairy people. Let's go and listen to a story that started not that long ago. A story that started on March the 21st of this year.
Arthuan Rebis is the artist's name of Italian composer, multi-instrumentalist, and free-spirited mind Alessandro Arturo Cucurnia. Arthuan, as we will continue to call him, has built up a quite interesting back catalog. Since 2011 he is a member of the Italian medieval/dance/performance act In Vino Veritas . We did a review on their latest album Grimorium Magi not that long ago [ link ]. He is also the founding member of The Magic Door , a band he started with film director, actress, and songwriter Giada Colagrande. We will dive into this intriguing band in a later review, but, having said that, those interested in world folk and art-pop should check this band out straight away. Over the years Arthuan has studied traditional music from across the world. Finding an equal love for Nordic folk, Celtic music, and Eastern (read Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese, and Indian) traditional music. His interest is also not limited by a time period, he is just as happy to play Medieval traditionals with In Vino Veritas as…Read More
Little did I know what a treasure chest of music I would discover when Mark van der Stelt suggested I should write an introduction to Back of the Moon 's album Luminosity . Not only was the music by the band itself mesmerizing, but so were the projects that the band were involved with afterward. There is the singer/songwriter extraordinaire Findlay Napier , (go check out his three solo albums and discover the magic of 'just' a voice and a guitar), there is the lovely Celtic folk on Pendulum , Gillian Frame 's 2016 solo album I reviewed a couple of months ago ( link ), and I haven't even started exploring the trazillion records Ali Hutton has been involved with. But today I want to focus on the lovely concept folk albums of composer and multi-instrumentalist Hamish Napier , something I have wanted to do from the moment I first listened to them on bandcamp . Earlier I combined his two nature-inspired albums: The River (2016) and The Woods (2020) in one review [ here ], now I will focus on the third solo album Hamish has recorded up till now: The Railway .
Hamish Napier, to quote the bio on his webpage: -" is originally from Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands. For over a decade he has been an integral part of Glasgow’s vibrant folk music scene, whilst also touring in Europe and North America with Scottish folk quartet Back of the Moon (‘Folk Band of the Year 2005’ MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards). Gaining degrees in Astronomy and Music when he first moved from his native Highlands to the city of Glasgow, Hamish was then awarded a year’s scholarship to study jazz piano and composition at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. Hamish now teaches composition and music theory at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and at music schools and festivals worldwide. He has recently returned to his native Strathspey, composing three solo albums The River (2016), The Railway (2018), and The Woods (2020) in celebration of his homeland. ' When Hamish performed The River live in Grantown in summer '16, Karen Blessington approached him enthusiastically after the show, inviting him to compose a soundtrack to her exciting new venture, the Grantown East: Highland Heritage & Cultural Centre . And the rest, as they say, is history. During the making of this album, Hamish talked a lot with former railwaymen Jimmy Gray (then 93), Jacky Hay (then…Read More
The Cairngorms, a rugged mountain range in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland, nicely nestled in between the cities Inverness, Aberdeen, and Dundee. For me, it is one of my bucket list places to go. Ever since I was a kid the Highlands have had a magical attraction on me. Don't ask me why a young Dutch kid would dream of hiking in the Scottish mountains, but I did. And that longing for anything Scottish never stopped, hence my utter joy when the last few episodes of BBC's Springwatch , Autumnwatch, and Winterwatch were all recorded within the boundaries of the Cairngorm national park . The Cairngorms, not only are they one of my favourite spots in the world; not only are they the stage for one of the best real-life nature programmes ever made; but they are also the home of former Back of the Moon multi-instrumentalist Hamish Napier . And just like the BBC Springwatch team sparked my love for the region even more with their wonderful camera work, Hamish managed to do exactly the same with his music. The River (2016), The Railway (2018) - an album I will introduce in a separate review- and The Woods (2020). are dedicated to this wonderful bit of the Scottish countryside.
As this review will be about two records and I have a limited amount of space available to do so, I'll leave introducing Hamish Napier for now and go straight into the music itself. If you want to know more about this talented Scottish folk composer and multi-instrumentalist, just follow this link to the review of The Railway , where I do have the space to introduce him properly. In 2016 The River, an instrumental concept folk CD celebrating the river Spey, was released. Hamish's explains : -" The river brings to the surface vivid images of occurrences, past and present, along the mile-long stretch of the Spey that flows past my childhood home. One of my brothers fished it, the other canoed it, my uncle Sam photographed it, my friends and I swam in it, my mother paints it and there's my father's daily fascination with its erratically changing water level. It will always symbolize home and a strong connection to nature. " That connection to nature is clear from the very first song on this album, called Mayfly . Mayflies are aquatic insects closely related to dragonflies and damselflies. For the best part of the year, they…Read More
Myrkur on CeltCast? Really? If someone had told me that I would be writing a review of a Myrkur album, or that a Myrkur song would become a Monthly Marker, I would have laughed you straight in the face. Loudly actually! Up till now, the black metal Myrkur played was as far away from the CeltCast format as artistically possible. It was one of our photographers, Andre Willemse, that tipped us off that Folkesange , Myrkur's newest record, was totally different. So the music team gave it a go... ....and totally fell in love with this exceptional Scandinavian folk album. Because that is what Folkesange is. Gone are all the blast beats, the battering guitar riffs, and the extreme black metal screams. Instead, we have a peaceful acoustic Scandinavian folk album. I can imagine the surprise on some metalheads faces when they heard this record for the first time, but from the CeltCast point of view we are quite happy that, the artist behind Myrkur , showed yet another side of her diverse musical personality.
Researching Amalie's musical history gave me one of the most interesting stories I've seen in a long time. Amalie was born in Denmark in 1985 and she released her first record ' Amalie Bruun ' which she wrote together with her father in 2006. In 2008 she recorded the theme song for the American reality show Paradise Hotel. The single, If You Give It Up , is actually a quite catchy pop song with a lovely Indian theme hidden inside. Following this first success she went to New York later in 2008. At that same time she recorded the EP Housecat , a very nice mix between alternative pop and singer-songwriter material. As if Björk - Human Behavior - met Emilia - Big Big World - on a Suzanne Vega party. I'm definitely going to try to get my hands on this interesting EP. Housecat won Amalie the New York Songwriters Circle International Award. In 2010, still under the name Amalie Bruun she released the EP Branches , less Björk, more Emilia, still catchy as hell, her future in the American charts seemed certain.
But Amalie ( picture with kind permission of Daria Endresen ) decided differently, starting an interesting journey through music land, which tells me that she has a really broad taste in music and the 'balls' to go her own way. After working together with producer Mark Saunders and Rapper R.A. the Rugged Man , she…Read More
Always quit while you're ahead! Well, the Dutch folk band Finvarra took this old saying literally, announcing that the band would stop playing together in the very same message in which they talked about the release of their latest mini-CD. That is one way to get my attention. In the words of the band: "- We are and will remain good friends but in the last two years we all went our own (musical) ways and we are happy with that. We had a very nice time with the band and are proud of all we have achieved, the great concerts we gave, all the nice people we've met and of the two CD's we have released. We would like to thank the bookers who put their faith in us and made concerts possible on the most adventurous locations. And of course we thank the photographers who captured these concerts so we could share them with the world. Last but not least, we would very much like to thank YOU, our loyal fans, for your support, love, and for dancing to our off-count songs 😉. Here's to friendship and music!!"
So Lanterne is not only Finvarra latest CD, no it is also the last album the band will make together. And yes just as you, I secretly - as secret as you can be writing it out right here- hope there will be a reunion somewhere in the future. Listening to the quality of music on the record, I am left craving for more. A lot more! But let me introduce the band first. Finvarra are the Dutch musicians Dieke Elfring (vocals, bodhrán, percussion); Gwendolyn Snowdon (vocals, Indian harmonium, bouzouki); Patrick Broekema (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, low whistle, backing vocals); Corné van Woerdekom (violin, backing vocals, percussion) and Evert Willemstijn (double bass). Their origins go way back to 2010 when Dieke and Corne, both studying at Leiden University, met Patrick and Gwendolyn at folk sessions held every two weeks in Cafe the Tregter in Leiden at the time. (Sessions that owner Marius van der Ploeg kept organizing until 2017 when he finally retired after 25 years.) The four band members found each other in their love of Celtic folk, but from the very start were not afraid to incorporate new styles and instruments. You could say the band was an instant hit in the folk scene, playing on the Folk Battle finals and at…Read More
I came into the magical world of Castlefest, Elfia, MPS, and all the music that comes with it through medieval re-enactors. Even before I met my German girlfriend I already had a love for the Mittelalter metal of In Extremo and the medieval rock of Schandmaul , so it was a no-brainer that Anna took me to a Mittelalter market as soon as she had the chance. It was on those markets that I discovered the cheerful sound of bands like Wirrwahr and Dopo Domani . Medieval street musicians playing jaunty songs on big drums, shepherd's pipes, hurdy-gurdy, and violin, quite often with funny stories in between, entertaining the crowd and the re-enactors alike. Since then I have discovered that every re-enactment scene in every country has those bands. I'm thinking of bands like Datura in the Netherlands, Virelai in Denmark, or In Vino Veritas in Italy. And it is the latter band that this review focuses on. Their 2014 album Baccabundi is a pure celebration of medieval fun, filled with classics like Ai Vist A Lo Lop , Tourdion , Bache Bene Venies , and Saltarello , but also original material such as my personal favourite Dracodanza . So when I received my copy of Grimorium Magi , I was getting myself ready for another bit of fun medieval time travelling. Well, not this time, not quite.
Ai Vist A Lo Lop by In Vino Veritas from their third album Baccabundi In Vino Veritas are a medieval pagan folk band from Carrara, Italy. The band formed in 2010 and since then they have recorded 3 albums and a DVD: the sold-out debut album Ludicantigas , the also sold out DVD Bestiarium , the 2014 record Baccabundi and the new CD Grimorium Mari . The band calls themselves a medieval pagan folk band and indeed, on those early albums you will find original compositions as well as medieval traditionals, focusing on pagan themes and the goliardic tradition *). On their DVD and live show Bestiarium , In Vino Veritas push their concept one step further, stating themselves that: ' Bestiarium is our new show about beasts and mythological animals, inspired by the medieval bestiaries and by the tradition of the itinerant masked bards, reminding of the traits of gargoyles sculptures. ' While introducing the new album In Vino Veritas already warned their fans that it would be something different. ' A new sound, both ancient and modern, psy folk, trance folk, pagan folk, world fusion, and…Read More