It gets a bit later every yerar, but, as ever, a carefully sequenced Spotify compilation of my favourite musical finds (both old and new) of the last year:
I remind you, dear reader, that most of these artists here are small scale, playing non-commercial music out of passion and commitment. To be able to make their art into a career they need patrons. Spotify is great for lots of things, but if you listen to this playlist ten times with a premium subscription the most you are going to be paying the rights holders is less than 2p (and I think Spotify exaggerates these payments anyhow). It’s for intents and purposes free music. If one of the artists features piques your attention, do check them out further, buy their albums and gig tickets so that they can keep making music.
If you’d like to keep up with my musical adventures, please do head over to www.facebook.com/christopherconderwriter and give me a ‘like’!
1. Jarlath Henderson – Courting is a pleasure
I marvelled when I watched Jarlath Henderson, a piper from Northern Ireland, win the BBC Young Folk Award in 2003. He then buggered off for six years to learn to be a doctor. On his return to performing he formed a great duo with Ross Ainslie and slowly started to reveal his handsome singing voice. In 2016 he released his first solo album, joined by an imaginative band from the Glasgow scene, focusing not on his playing but on traditional songs. This song opens the album and samples incidental pipe noises for a tale of unrequited love and possible murder.
From Hearts Broken, Heads Turned (Bellows Records, 2016). Available to buy from https://jarlathhenderson.co.uk/shop.
2. Jambinai 잠비나이 – Naburak
My love affair with South Korean noise folk band Jambinai continues with their wonderful new album. If you think traditional instruments or the humble triangle can’t be powerful, listen to this, They’ve been picked up by respected British indie label Bella Union so are touring here more often, which is good as they are one the planet’s best live acts. I wrote about them in fRoots Magazine #371.
From A Hermitage (Bella Union, 2016). Available to buy from https://bellaunion.greedbag.com/jambinai-0.
3. Songs of Separation – Echo Mocks the Corncrake
The Songs of Separation project brought together ten female folk musicians from Scotland and England on the Isle of Eigg to record ‘reflections on the parting of ways’. A key theme at a time like this in our (inter)national lives. This song, listed as ‘traditional’ but thought to be a pastiche from the 19th or 20th century, is led by Karine Polwart ‘On the surface’, she writes, ‘it’s a bonnie pastoral lovesong. But […] I think this disconnect between human beings and the living world is one of the great faultiness of our era.’
From Songs of Separation (Navigator Records, 2016).
4. Laura Cannell – Horselore
I interviewed Laura Cannell way back in 2007 or 08 for an fRoots article (issue #297) on her duo, Horses Brawl. For shame, I slightly lost touch with her career after that, so was delighted and somewhat bewildered when she emerged over the last two years as the critical darling of such forward looking music journals as The Wire: Adventures In Modern Music and The Quietus. Her bold, beautiful and uncompromising mixture of folk and early music into her own compositions certainly deserves the attention.
From Simultaneous Flight Movement (Brawl Records, 2016). Available to buy from https://brawlrecords.bandcamp.com/album/simultaneous-flight-movement.
5. Susso – Ansumana
I heard this one played by Lauren Laverne on BBC 6Music. In all honesty, the full album didn’t make much on an impression on me, but I love this. Londoner Huw Bennett travelled to the Gambia to meet and record with the Mandinka people. He came back with this gorgeous piece of subdued, dubby beauty.
From Keira (Soundway Records, 2016). Available to buy from https://www.soundwayrecords.com/Shop/DownloadDetails?rid=SWR_RE_113.
6. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – We be all Africans
Idris Ackamoor is an African-American saxophonist, and led the Pyramids first in the 1970s and again now. A bit jazz, a bit afrobeat, a lot groovy.
From We be all Africans (Strut Records, 2016). Available to buy from https://strut.greedbag.com/buy/we-be-all-africans/.
7. The Furrow Collective – Wild Hog in the Woods
Introducing their version of ‘House Carpenter’ on the Big Session’s ‘Volume 1’ album (Westpark, 2004), Rennie Sparks of The Handsome Family talks about how their American version had stripped all of the narrative from the English ballad and just left ‘unexplained violence’. A similar process has happened here. Related to numerous old English ballads of knights and derring do, the Furrow Collective’s version of this song (learnt from the singing of Eunice Yeatts MacAlexander from Virginia) cuts right to the chase of an epic battle with a bloodthirsty boar. The Furrow Collective are Alasdair Roberts (lead vocal) and Rachel Newton from Scotland with Emily Portman and Lucy Farrell from England, and are a mighty impressive ensemble. There’s a cute video for this too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTb…
From Wild Hog (Hudson Records, 2016). Available to buy from http://hudsonrecords.bigcartel.com/product/the-furrow-collective-wild-hog.
8. Bellowhead – Old Dun Cow
There are a number of animals on this mixtape. A wild hog, the lore of horses, a corncrake… But the Old Dun Cow is actually the name of a pub, burning to the ground as our heroes try to save as much booze as possible by drinking it. This discofied take on an old folk song comes from 11-piece English heroes Bellowhead. I am still proud to say I was the first person to ever play them on the radio, and it was with sadness that I heard they were disbanding after 11 years. I was there at the (almost) start and wanted to be there for the end. My friend (and fellow radio presenter) Fi Cooper (nee Nutbrown) managed to get us tickets for their final show in Oxford Town Hall, which was as manic, glorious and emotional as I could have hoped for. A ‘best of Bellowhead’ was released for the mainstream market (with, oddly, all songs and no tunes), but the real keepsake is this momentous live album.
From Bellowhead Live – The Farewell Tour (Navigator Records, 2016).
9. Zayn – LIKE I WOULD
Interesting psychological experiment: how much does fancying someone increase your enjoyment of their music? Over the years the attractive likes of Childish Gambino and Kele Okereke (as well as some people I’ve met so won’t actually name!) have crept onto my playlists. I hope it hasn’t influenced my judgement, but it may have helped them stay in my mind when it gets to compiling time at the end of the year.
Me and the boyfriend have both had a soft spot for Zayn Malik from the One Directions for a while, but I can genuinely say that when this tune first caught my ear on the radio I didn’t know who it was by. I think it’s great. Go Zayn!
From Mind of Mine (RCA Records, 2016). Available to buy from http://zayn.shop.musictoday.com/store.
10. Edil Huseinov – Tulpar Shabyty
Lest it be said my tastes are getting mainstream, here’s some Jew’s harp and throat singing from Kazakhstan. I got a new job on promotion this year, which was all good except it meant I had to give up a work trip to Kazakhstan I was getting really excited about and had already started researching.
From Songs From the Steppes: Kazakh Music Today (Topic Records, 2005).
11. Wim Claeys – Witten Donderdag
I interviewed Ghent’s Wim Claeys about his band, Tref, for a piece in fRoots #359 (May 2013). He told me about his solo project, singing his local dialect songs to a selective audience. With his new album he’s gone a bit more ambitious, teaming them with grand arrangements like this one.
From Een Schuune Bende (Appel Rekords, 2016)
12. Tuulikki Bartosik –Time? / Aeg?
Another diatonic accordion led track, this one by Estonia’s Tuulikki Bartosik. Not too licky for me! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha etc……
From Storied Sounds (RootBeat Records, 2016). Available to buy from http://rootbeatrecords.com/opencart/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=75&search=tuulikki.
13. Shirley Collins – Death and the Lady
British folk music seems to have an unlikely specialism in mysterious or tragic departures from the limelight followed decades later by much delayed but emotional comebacks. The last twenty years has seen the unexpected return of Linda Thompson, Vashti Bunyan, Bonnie Dobson and Nic Jones but this year’s model is the great Shirley Collins.
After a series of absolutely classic folk albums in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Collins lost her singing voice to dysphonia following a painful divorce from Ashley Hutchings. Whilst she has returned to the stage this century presenting talks and curating festivals, there was little sign of a return to singing. And then ‘Lodestar’ came out. Topping the fRoots Critics Poll for album of the year, the 81 year old’s first new recording for 38 years captures Collins’ more gravely, cracked voice on a series of affecting, traditional but highly contemporary songs. Ian Kearey joins her here on slide guitar, in an arrangement that harks back to Collins’ time collecting songs in America with Alan Lomax.
From Lodestar (Domino Recording Company, 2016). Available to buy from http://www.dominorecordco.com
14. Maz O’Connor – Crook of his Arm
Sticking to the English folk scene, I’ve taken a liking to Maz O’Connor’s sweet mix of traditional ballads and her own heartfelt, youthful compositions.This song from her most recent album deals with homecomings.
From The Longing Kind (Restless Head Records, 2016). Available to buy from http://www.mazoconnor.com/shop/.
15. Shye Ben Tzur, Johny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express – Julus
Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur and a group on Indian musicians called the Rajasthan Express teamed up with Radiohead’s Johny Greenwood for this album that mixes various musical styles most effectively. There’s a nice video of a different number from the album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5tLoceVlZU&list=RDM5tLoceVlZU#t=119. I’m hoping that the Radiohead connection will mean they will be playing at Glastonbury 2017.
From Junan (Nonesuch Records, 2015). Available to buy from http://www.nonesuch.com
16. Anoushka Shankar – Boat to Nowhere
Talking of Indian musicians at Glastonbury, it was an obvious move to go and see Anoushka Shankar at 2016’s fest but one I’d not given a great deal of thought to. It turned out to be the highlight of the festival. With Manu Delago on hang and percussion, Tom Farmer on double bass and keys and Sanjeev Shankar on shehnai, there’s was an innovative and exciting new sound showcasing her latest album, a meditation on the refuge crisis.
From Land of Gold (Decca Records, 2016).
17. Chango Spasiuk – Alvear Orilla – Estancia Santa Maria
I try to go on a big faraway trip every two years and for 2017 northeast Argentina called. I listened to lots of Argentinean music in preparation and had the pleasure of meeting the brilliant chamame accordionist Chango Spasiuk during his UK tour in November 2016.
From Pynandi – Los Descalzos (World Village, 2009).
18. Melingo – Gnossienne
I’ve long been a fan of Daniel Melingo, whose brooding, twilight tango tales are moving even without understanding the words. He also toured the UK in 2016 and I got to make his acquaintance before our proper interview in Buenos Aires. This is a slightly odd and unrepresentative choice from his new album, a take on Satie’s Gnoissienne No 1, but I like it.
From Anda (World Village, 2016).
19. Childish Gambino– Redbone
Childish Gambino (aka actor Donald Glover) first caught my ear as a rapper, but for the new album it’s all sexy slinky falsetto soul. Here’s the performance that, ahem, turned me on to the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezb…
From “Awaken, My Love” (Caroline International S&D, 2016).
20. Harry Belafonte – Matilda
“You must know that song!” drawled my drunken friend Rex on his London visit. I didn’t but now I love it. “Women over 40!”
Available on various ‘best of’ compilations, recorded 1953.
21. Lajkó Félix – Még Azt Mondjáck
Hungary’s zither master, Félix Lajkó (to use ‘firstname surname’), with an adrenalised version of a folk song. My best educated guess is that the singers are Gabriella Tintern, Anna Csizmadia and Palya Bea, but I could be wrong. Here’s a decade old live version with Magdolna Rúzsa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAe… Lajkó Félix Official
From Most Jöttem… (Fono, 2016).
22. Kyungso Park – The Sea that Swallowed the Tear Drops
And some more zither to end, this time the Korean gayageum. I previewed Park’s London show as part of K-Music in fRoots #400, but then missed the event because I was poorly. 🙁 The intricate interlacing strings remind me of Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita’s music, which I used to close a previous mixtape.
From The Most Beautiful Connection (2015).
For last year’s mixtape (and to keep working back from there), go to https://www.facebook.com/shares/view?id=10157867733355545&overlay=1¬if_t=story_reshare¬if_id=1489484090284484