Tag Archives: Scottish

Bert Jansch Visits Pittsburgh!

Raymond_Bert

Last Friday night was a night that I had been anticipating for a very long time. After two illness-related cancellations in the last two years, legendary Scottish guitarist Bert Jansch finally made it to Pittsburgh, one of only a handful of US performances this fall. The man should need no introduction, but for the unfamiliar, Bert Jansch came to prominence in the British folk and blues revival of the 1960’s, both as a solo artist and a member of the jazz/folk fusion group Pentangle. His playing and songwriting have been enormously influential in the folk world and beyond, and his praises have been sung by everyone from Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (who pinched Bert’s arrangement of the traditional “Blackwaterside”, and without crediting him) to Neil Young, for whom Bert served as opening act on his last tour.

On this latest trek, Bert was headlining, and his support was Pegi Young (Neil’s wife) and her band, The Survivors, who were all seasoned west coast session musicians. The setting was the First Unitarian Church, which proved a great sounding venue for both Pegi Young’s country rock and Bert’s solo acoustic set. I wasn’t sure how many people would be attending the show, so I purchased tickets well in advance, not wanting to chance a sell-out. As it turns out, there were a fair number of empty pews that night, which I considered mind-boggling… this was Bert Jansch!!! How many times was he going to come back to Pittsburgh?! I didn’t dwell on it for very long… being a friend of the promotor, I knew that Bert would get paid no matter who showed up, and the modest crowd (100-125 people, maybe?) made for a memorable, intimate night. Continue reading

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Bert Jansch “Acoustic Routes” Documentary (1992)

For a long time, I’d known about “Acoustic Routes”, the legendary documentary about Bert Jansch which aired in the UK in the early 90’s… now, through the magic of YouTube (and thanks to the efforts of user mrcmxoner) this obscure little film is available for all to see! There are so many great moments… Bert and John reunited, Bert playing a blues with Brownie McGhee, one of his first heroes, and commentary from Hamish Imlach, Anne Briggs, Wizz Jones, Archie Fisher… wonderful stuff! The proceedings are affectionately hosted by Billy Connolly (click link to see his nutty Flash site), and I thought I’d embed the entire thing right here, to save everyone the trouble of skipping around on YouTube. Enjoy!

Ben Reynolds November Tour

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Scottish guitarist Ben Reynolds is getting ready to embark on a quick US tour. We reviewed his Tompkins Square debut How Day Earnt Its Night not too long ago, and have since been spinning his Strange Attractors album Two Wings, which is equally good! We’re going to try to take some video at the Pittsburgh performance, so keep an eye out for that… and visit Reynolds’ Myspace page for updates on the TBA dates.

11/10 – Zebulon w/ Eric Carbonara, Mike Wexler, David Copenhafer
258 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn NY

11/11 – The Outpost w/ Eric Carbonara, Concord Ballet Orchestra Players, Mike Tamburo
186 1/2 Hampshire St, Cambridge MA

11/12 – The Appohadion w/ Mike Tamburo, Tom Kovacevic, Prisma
107 Hanover St, Portland ME

11/13 – The Spotty Dog w/ Mike Tamburo, Alex Turnquist
440 Warren St, Hudson NY

11/14 – TBA w/ Mike Tamburo
Providence, RI

11/15 – BAR w/ Mike Tamburo
254 Crown St, New Haven CT

11/16 – Issue Project Room w/ Mike Tamburo
At The Old American Can Factory, 232 3rd Street, 3rd Floor, Brooklyn NY

11/17 – House show w/ Mike Tamburo, Eric Carbonara
4500 kingsessing Ave, Philadelphia PA

11/18 – Schlow Memorial Library w/ Mike Tamburo + others TBA
211 S. Allen St, State College PA

11/19 – Morning Glory Coffeehouse w/ Mike Tamburo
1806 Chislet St, Pittsburgh PA

11/20 – TBA w/ Mike Tamburo, Nick Schillace
Detroit MI

11/21 – Skylab w/ Mike Tamburo
57 E Gay St, Columbus OH

11/22 – Hop Hop w/ Mike Tamburo, Keenan Lawler
800 N. Limestone St, Lexington, KY

11/23 – Little Hamilton w/ Mike Tamburo, Keenan Lawler, The Paper Hats
1318 Little Hamilton Ave, Nashville TN

11/24 – Swan Dive w/ Mike Tamburo, Keenan Lawler, Nathan Salsburg
921 Swan St, Louisville KY

11/25 – Heaven Gallery w/ Mike Tamburo
1550 N. Milwaukee Ave, 2nd Floor, Chicago IL

Review : Alasdair Roberts “The Wyrd Meme” 12″/CD (Drag City, 2009)

Wyrd_Meme_Coverby Raymond Morin

Alasdair Roberts has earned his reputation as a respectful interpreter, having adopted and re-imagined many well-known British Isles ballads (see his excellent “Lord Ronald”, from 2005’s No Earthly Man). The Scottish singer/guitarist has deep roots in traditional music, but in the US, he is equally associated with modern indie-rock. Roberts has toured and recorded with many top performers from both worlds, and his own music is something of a hybrid, a blending of those sensibilities. He usually sings in a taut yet gentle tenor, not unlike that of American contemporary and label-mate Will Oldham (Palace, Bonnie Prince Billy). While Roberts and Oldham share certain undeniable similarities in cadence and timbre, it would be a good idea to end the comparisons there… Roberts is on his own path, and through his long association with the Drag City label, has built one of the most consistently satisfying catalogs in indie-folk. The trend continues with The Wyrd Meme, a mini-album that follows on the heels of this year’s full-length Spoils.

This four song set possesses all the hallmarks of the singer’s unique style: flowery, borderline archaic language, traditional or traditional-derived melodies, varied and refreshing arrangements, and clever turns of phrase never in short supply. On opener “The Hallucinator and the King of the Silver Ship of Time”, Roberts paints a detailed portrait of the curious Hallucinator, and her visit from the King of Time, at the bottom of the ocean. Both the narrator’s point of view and the purpose of the meeting are nebulous, yet the imagery is so vivid that it’s hard not to get drawn in.

While that fantastical setting of “Hallucinator…” sounds something akin to a fable, second track “The Yarn Unraveller” seems to describe an imminent separation of the common human variety, one person leaving on a journey while the other is left behind. The song finds precedent in the Child Ballad “The Trooper and the Maid”, which has a similar premise and melodic arc, but as with many of Roberts’ re-castings, there is an appreciable immediacy and warmth that keeps things from sounding dated.


Alasdair Roberts – “The Yarn Unraveller”

Though the collection has it’s share of achingly sad and beautiful moments, there is also a welcome thread of levity woven into the songs. Closer “Coral and Tar” takes the form of a lullaby, and contains some real gems of wordplay, as Roberts mixes up self-deprecating humor, modern asides and naturalistic themes. Alliteration-rich lines such as “I’m no pine, I’m a man in my prime and I’m pining” and the twisting “…to join with the pine and to join with the oak in their blood oath to choke up the garden” are classic Roberts… seemingly world-weary, but with a wink.

The Wyrd Meme is a short yet worthy addition to Alasdair Roberts’ healthy discography. Existing fans won’t find any real surprises, but they will most certainly not be disappointed, and for the uninitiated, Meme would be a fine starting point.

Buy the 12″ or CD from Drag City
Buy the 12″ or CD from Insound
Alasdair Roberts’ Website
Alasdair Roberts’ on Myspace

Review : Ben Reynolds “How Day Earnt Its Night” CD (Tompkins Square, 2009)

Ben_Reynolds_How_Day_CoverBy Raymond Morin

Ben Reynolds is a member of the Scottish folk-rock band Trembling Bells, who are currently making a name for themselves on the European circuit. They’ve recently appeared at the yearly Green Man Festival, have a new record out on Honest Jon’s, and every press bit that I’ve seen has made mention of legendary producer Joe Boyd’s affection for the group. Not too shabby!

Mr. Reynolds busies himself with a great many projects, and has amassed a deep discography of noise and improvised recordings on such labels as Last Visible Dog, Strange Attractors Audio House, Beyond Repair, Dancing Wayang and others. The venerable Tompkins Square label tapped him for the third installment in their indispensable Imaginational Anthem compilation series, and this summer the label quietly released How Day Earnt Its Night, an instrumental acoustic guitar record and Reynold’s highest-profile solo outing to date.

Upon listening to the album and digging deeper into his back catalog, it’s clear that Reynolds has many interests, and that being associated with a a single style isn’t one of them. Thus, there is a little of everything on How Day Earnt Its Night… and though the recording quality is warm and clear, and Reynolds is a more than competent picker, there is a certain lack of direction that keeps many of these tracks from being home runs.

The songs generally fall into two categories : shorter, British Isles-flavored vignettes and extended Takoma-inspired explorations. Opener “Skylark (Scorner of the Ground)” takes the former approach, as Reynolds easily picks through some pleasant, stately figures. Though nothing revolutionary, the songs in this style are some of the best on the album, even if tracks like “Risen” and “England” rely more on the moods that they evoke than on any concrete melodic ideas. Reynolds builds most of these British-style songs around a simple alternating-bass with hammer-on riffs in the high strings, generally falling back on picking patterns and ignoring the harmonic possibilities in the chords’ middle voices. “Kirstie”, as lovely as it is, repeats the formula one last time, feeling a little like a song waiting for a singer.


Ben Reynolds – “Kirstie”
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Most of the remaining tracks move in a decidedly more American (Primitive) direction, and the results are, sadly, a little underwhelming. “Death Sings” is bargain-basement Takoma, borrowing liberally from the vocabulary of John Fahey but adding nothing new to the conversation. “The Virgin Knows” is an over-long bottleneck dirge, piling on almost nine minutes of hammer-ons and meandering slide riffs, but never really going anywhere. Reynolds tries to channel Lightnin’ Hopkins on “All Gone Wrong Blues”, but the tune’s recycled blues runs and ever-present harmonica make for a pretty tedious listen.

Ben Reynolds

Ben Reynolds

The wild card on this collection is definitely the title track. “How Day Earnt Its Night” is the album’s centerpiece, sitting somewhat conspicuously between two of the aforementioned British-style tunes. “How Day…” opens with haunting three finger triplet-rolls on the high string, filling in over the course of the next few minutes with stark harmonics and staccato melodic fragments. The results are really pretty enchanting, reminding me of the hammer-dulcimer compositions of one of Reynolds’ soon-to-be-tourmates, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tamburo. Reynolds drops in some downtuned bass-note melodies, coloring the piece harmonically and adding more tension, before the still-blazing triplets are unceremoniously cut off around the eight-minute mark. The breakneck pace slows, and Reynolds noodles somewhat aimlessly for the remainder of the song… a disappointing anticlimax to what began as a very engaging and promising piece.


Ben Reynolds – “How Day Earnt Its Night” (excerpt)
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I’ve got a few discs from Reynolds’ back catalog on their way, and am looking forward to seeing him live this autumn. While How The Day Earnt Its Night lacks originality, it does present Reynolds as a restless and intriguing picker, with both solid technique and an internalized knowledge of a few beloved acoustic guitar styles… and because Reynolds stands to grow exponentially as both a player and a composer, I plan to follow his progress closely.

Buy this CD from Insound
Buy this CD from Tompkins Square
Check out Ben Reynolds on Myspace

Bert Jansch mid 70’s albums reissued by Drag City

I’ll kick this blog off with some great news, though I’m certainly not the first to break it…  the amazing Bert Jansch, a songwriter and guitar player of the highest order, and something of a living legend, is having three of his mid 70’s albums reissued by Drag City. The albums in question? L.A. Turnaround, Santa Barbara Honeymoon, and A Rare Conundrum.

Of the three albums in question, at least one is an absolute classic, L.A. Turnaround. It was produced by the inimitable Michael Nesmith (yup, that Michael Nesmith!) and also features the amazing pedal steel of Red Rhodes, who absolutely tore it up on those Nesmith solo albums from the early 70’s. Bert’s playing and singing are wonderful, and the accompaniment is understated and quite lovely. It also features one of my all-time favorite Bert songs, “One For Jo”.

The CDs are available now, and the vinyl is coming in October. Look for some in-depth reviews when the vinyl drops!

Buy Bert Jansch music from Insound