Thursday 28 January 2016

Rachel Sermanni at Celtic Connections 2016

Rachel Sermanni was the quality support for Grant tonight and in contrast to John Grant's large bass tones - she is delicate, petite and has an ethereal, soft focus voice. 

I have heard her perform a few times with only her acoustic guitar, in fact the first time was at the Celtic Connections Danny Kyle open mic stage a few years back, where as a winner she first received attention for her music. So this was the first time I have heard her with a full, high quality band and with a chance to add more depth to her sound.

Her new album release Tied to the Moon, explores earthier themes and she spoke of how women are tied to the moon's cycles, wheras men are tied to the sun.  
 Her final song was a lullaby, The Camp before the Storm a song about her future self. A beautiful new voice and songstress!

(She might introduce her songs more I wondered.)

John Grant at Celtic Connections

John Grant American singer-songwriter was on fine form at Celtic Connections.
He performed songs from his third solo album Grey Tickles, Black Pressure -  Geraldine,
 Global Warming, Voodoo Doll and on Disappointing, 'Just One Smile, Disappointing compared to you.'

He also sang earlier material such as his song Pale Green Ghosts, and I particularly enjoyed his hit song Glacier when his sang in a slow loud note,  'This PAIN... and 'Don't become paralysed with fear.'  He sang, 'Happy 65% of the time' in his GMF song.

He took the tempo up quite often with electronic pop rhythms of waves colliding and crashing. And a few humorous songs as if to remind of the ridiculousness of life. 

And the thirty-something crowd showed their enthusiastic appreciation and love! 

His sound is all about his heart-wrenching vocal melodies. Many of his songs linger and resonate. His expansive choruses explode in free expressions and on the verse his voice asked why.....

Interestingly he has been working with Icelandic musician Birgir Þórarinsson, a.k.a. Biggi Veira of Iceland's electronic pioneers on his second solo album and he now lives in Reykjavik Iceland.  Grant grew up near the Rockies Colorado.  He was previously with the Denver based alternative rock band The Czars in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Monday 25 January 2016

Lucinda Williams rocked at Celtic Connections 2016!

Sassy straight talking rock on lady! This lady takes no prisoners and she seems grounded.

I came new to Lucinda, while I had read good reviews of her work. Looking at her Wikipedia page I noticed that at 62 she has unusually been having more success as she gets older.
As we waited in the packed Glasgow concert hall an enthusiastic man appeared at the side of the stage waving a set list. I got a photo - was this Mr Overby her manger and now husband? I wondered was the extra time before the gig to ground us to be ready to listen? 

She sang several tracks from her new 2016 album, Ghost of Highway 20, in which she sings of her memories of the deep south and of those lost to her. 'Places you can't let go of - they won't let go of you' and 'I found myself on Highway 20' 
On any given night there would likely be certain songs on her set list such as Drunken Angel, Lake Charles and Cold Day in Hell. 'Each time I look at the world there's a different story.' Another song was entitle Protection. 'Protection from the enemy of love, the enemy of rock n roll' And on Find My Joy she sang, 'You took my joy don't mess with me.' 

Her father was the poet, Miller Williams (who read at Bill Clinton's inauguration). He once took her to hear the preacher and street singer guitarist Blind Pearly Brown. She may have found setting his words to music a challenge but she managed on his poem Compassion and on Dust. 'You couldn't cry if you wanted to.' Her mother, Lucy Morgan was a musician.

The rocking high quality band Buick 6 performed with her. Guitarist Stuart Mathis took up mournful and joyous melodies along side dynamic drummer Butch Norton in his white cowboy hat and their bassist David Sutton racked up the energy. Often she turned her back to conduct the band so they are all in sync. Lucinda with her shock of blond hair and leather jacket is not your average softly dressed country gal! On a couple of songs there was just Lucinda on guitar.

For her encore songs Lucinda sang Robert Johnston's Stop Breaking Down Blues and JJ Cale's song Magnolia. She smiled as she searched for the last song among her pages of songs when her roadie came to assist. 

Her spiritual songs cover pathos, regret, searching. Lucinda's voice packs a punch with a rasp, unforgettable direct earthiness. At times with her head titled back slightly her voice soars and meanders those blues songs.  

She is a three times Grammy award winner and considered one of America's top songwriters. I can understand why, I was new to these songs and they registered and struck home right away.
Harmony, peaceful, rocking! 

She is a defiant lady who has travelled many roads. There were loads of stand outs and textured, layered songs with an artist of this calibre and there is nothing subtle about Lucinda.

Williams was well supported by Canadian singer songwriter Jenny Ritter.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

'Pilgrimer: Re-imagining Joni Mitchell's Hejira' at Celtic Connections 2016

"touching souls and surely you touched mine..."

I felt enriched - this was a perfect evening of nostalgia for the many massive Joni fans there in the packed audience concert hall to hear Joni Michell's Hejira album - now set to new Scottish words by the author James Robertson.  Joni wrote this album while driving solo from Miami to LA ,on both the freedom and loneliness of the road. 

*The first SET was the Scots Re-imagining of Hejira
Author James Robertson began the night. He said after travelling in America, seeing Joni live and buying the album, Hejira was now "in his bones" - so this was an instinctive project for him to re-imagine her words into the Scots language.  He had already written the first Scots adaptation twenty years ago and was encouraged by Celtic's director Donald Shaw's wish to bring more spoken word into the festival.

Scottish folk singer and musician, Karine Polwart and her brother guitarist Steven Polwart, were central to organising this concert.  Karine, herself a talented singer song writer gave careful performance with her expressive vocal. 
She sang four of the tracks - Tod(Coyote), Hoolet(Black Crow), The Find(Hejira) and Columba(Amelia) when she was thrilled to be joined onstage by the renowned Grammy winning guitarist Larry Carlton, who has worked with many of the greats in music - including Joni's Hejira.  

Annie Grace performed the track Pie Jock(Furry Sings). While Rod Paterson delighted with his deeper vocals and a humorous rendition of Kippenrait(Strange boy)and also languorous Grey in Grez (Blue Motel).
James performed spoken word on a moving tribute, Sang for Joni(Song for Sharon. Karine, Annie and Rod sang Pilgrimer(Refuge of the Road).  

*The second SET was some favoured Joni songs.
Olivia Chaney interpreted well two of Joni's best loved classics on piano A Case of You, Women of Heart and Mind.   
Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis sang in English Cactus Tree and River with strings and expressed well the vulnerability and poignancy of her voice.
Award-winning singer Kathryn Joseph, performed the songs Rainy Night House and the classic Both Sides Now with her delicate timing and ethereal voice. Canadian singer Rose Cousins, challenged herself well to sing Joni's haunting Blue.   

With all the talented female line up on stage they then performed the more hopeful and embracing songs The Fiddle and the Drum, followed by Free Man In Paris - and after a standing ovation a lovely encore of  the Circle Game.  All five women performers clearly showed their awe, love and respect for how much Mitchell has influenced their own songs and music.   

This was a night of delightful harmony and memories - both the joy and the pain of those journeys.  With a great expanse of subtle light and shade and movement in the music.  For this album Joni blended her folk, rock and jazz influences. Well done to the entire cast for such an memorable evening of song!
A special mention to a top house band, which consisted of Calum McIntyre(drums, percussion), Steven Polwart (guitar), Kevin McGuire (double bass), Fraser Fifield (kaval, low whistle, saxophone).  

Joni was one of the first to write lyrics to her songs in such an intimate way. She is a great lyricist and painter of profound images. The direct simplicity of her words are highly memorable with lines such as  - ' You impress me most when you don't even try.' As she sings on Blue Motel Room: "I’ve got road maps from two dozen states, I’ve got coast to coast just to contemplate …" 

James asked us to send a Big Wave of thanks over the ocean to Joni - one of the greatest singer songwriters of all time. I agree wholeheartedly with him - still as brilliant 40 years later!   

Robertson has also adapted other books into the Scots language.  He spoke in an interview for the Herald of the challenges of working on this creative project to bring his words into the musical contact of the songs -  You can’t simply swap a song from one language into another and expect it to work. It’s no accident that Scots is the "natural" language of much traditional Scottish music, and American the "natural" language of blues and rock ’n’ roll. This does not mean, however, that synthesis is impossible or undesirable. On the contrary, building bridges between musical and wider cultural worlds is exactly what Celtic Connections does. '

That wis the lang, hot simmer, Joni,
we thocht it wid niver end;
I had ma haill life oot afore me,
nae mair lessons tae attend.
Caurs tailed back in the Safari Park,
puggies laughin in the trees:
the warld wis turnin inside oot,
shrinkin by invisible degrees.

I gaed through twenty-nine states and then some mair –
forests, mountains, fields and feelins.
I walked ma shoon tae shreds on stoury roads,
sometimes hurtin, sometimes healin.
Awthin turns in time tae legend,
and in ilka legend somethin’s true;
that fit-sair, luve-seik pilgrimer
aye walks aside me noo.