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The Driving Test

A Musical Car Ride

Whilst we would love to give every album/EP/single a full indepth review,we are only human and don't have a time turner so we aren't able to give every release the time and attention it deserves.

In the past that would have ment that we either reviewed a release or we didn't, but now we have a third option, a middle way.

The solution here has been a simple one. Rather than review individual artists' CD's at length, we play them one after the other on a long car journey. The simple listening test is: "are they bearable in the car - interesting, enjoyable, not distracting". This may not be how the artists want us to hear their work, but it's how a lot gets listened to for the first time and at least raises awarenes! The rating system is simple and provides a shorthan for reference.:

***** Classic album, standout artist - a joy to listen to anywhere
**** Great album - the perfect soundtrack to a long car journey
*** Good album - pleasant background in the car - but nothing unique
** You have to be a fan of this music/artist. I've spared you a review
* You are either the artist or a close relative. (As I'm not, sorry no review)

Ryan Young - Ryan Young ****

This debut album from the young Scottish fiddle player is a gentle set of traditional tunes - jigs, reels airs and others. Accompanied only by piano and guitar, Ryan has produced a varied set of predominantly dance tunes. Perfect for the long journey on B roads, but too quiet and subtle for motorways and heavy traffic. If you like traditional instrumental folk, seek this one out.

Sally Simpson/Catriona Hawksworth - Duo ***

Another debut album, and more tunes in the Scottish tradition - many written or arranged by Sally (fiddle/viola) and Catriona (piano). More airs and ballads than dance tunes, so really one for listening at home (especially around the fire on a cold, dark evening), rather than in the car. Very pleasant, competent playing but unexceptional.

Rogue Diplomats - Whiskey Picnic *

So, you walk into a bar in New York and find a Clancy Brothers tribute band (too refined to be a Dubliners tribute)! Cod Irish accents, "Wild Rover", bodhrans, deedle-diedle-dum and all. Do you sit down and drown your sorrows, or run out screaming? I gave up at "What shall we do with a drunken sailor"!

Fit and the Conniptions - Old Blue Witch **

Fourth album from this trio (viola, bass, drums). Apparently this contains several "overtly political" songs, but it is hardly topical or particularly instructive: the title track is about Margaret Thatcher, (decd. 2013) and there is another about trade unionist Bob Crow (decd. 2014) to the tune of Joe Hill! Songwriter and leader Wayne Myers may be trying to be Billy Bragg circa 1980, but sounds more like a suburban lad singing cockney. They must have a fan base to have lasted this long. Not to my taste!

Head for the Hills - Potions and Poisons ***

Head for the Hills is a four-piece from Colorado. Despite the claim that the songs "look at the darker side of love, lust and life", this mix of folk, country, bluegrass and light pop is largely pleasantly rhythmic and upbeat. The instrumental playing (especially Joe Lessard on violin and Sam Parks on mandolin) is tight and swinging. The vocals are largely unexceptional - sometimes strained at slower tempos - and add little power to the lyrics. One for the summer - driving with the windows open, across open fields.

Nachtvlucht - Plaisir d'amour **

Baroque/folk from a Dutch duo - Anouk Platenkamp (Celtic Harp) and Jos Koning (violin). Pleasant, gentle serene tunes - a mixture of European folk tunes and self-written ones - which require careful listening. The musicianship is superb, and the sound crystal clear. Songs in Dutch are less easy on the ear, having a classical "lieder" feel which may not appeal to UK and International folk fans. Not road music!

Coca Tenorio - Cold Like Stones **

Ecuadorian singer, songwriter and producer Coca Tenorio now lives in the Scottish Highlands! This seems to have had little direct influence on her music, which retains a strong Spanish/Latin American feel. This is never more apparent than in her vocals, which exhibit a strong latin phrasing and vibrato - at times this gives her English lyrics a tremulous and other-worldly feel. The songs can be rather dirge-like and repetitive; but her musicians (mainly guitar and percussion) provide a strong backing, which lifts the atmosphere considerably. Mood music - not a soundtrack for the journey!

Lone Taxidemist - Trifle **

Natalie Sharp describes her debut CD as "a gallery of grotesquery"! If you like a vocal sound strongly reminiscent of Sparks over a backing of 70's electronica and basic punk (think early Siouxie or the Slits) then this is for you. If you prefer your music melodic, sophisticated or intricate, steer clear. On a long journey it would give me a headache, and force me to take a Welcome Break in search of paracetomol.

William the Conqueror - Proud Disturber of the Peace ***

Don't know much about them - the website's not much help. It's a trio - guitar (etc) bass and drums. Rock with a country, folky edge - tunes mostly based on simple riffs with little instrumental development. Perhaps they are great live? One for the fans to buy at gigs.

Matthew Ward - The Lighthouse EP ***

Debut 5-track EP from this Irish singer-songwriter. Matthew's voice is a pleasing light tenor, and his tunes have a country/folk style which fully complements his singing. A good club act, but not uniquely different from many others in a crowded market. Another set for a slow drive in the country.

Bruce Cockburn - Bone on Bone ***

The 33rd album from 72 year-old Canadian guitarist, singer-songwriter Cockburn! With so many awards - Officer of the Order of Canada, the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, and at least 6 honorary doctorates - it hardly needs a review to tell you that this is a class act. His songs reflect his non-denominational spiritual faith and his concerns for political issues, social justice and the environment. 'Professional, thoughtful and tuneful' sums up this record. Another one to listen to at home or on a gentle drive.

Elliot Morris - Lost & Found ****

Elliot Morris' debut CD was released in June 2017, and is a very strong first album indeed. With all-star backing musicians, including Paul Carrack (Hammond organ) and his son Jack (drums), Lost and Found features strong songs and great arrangements in a range of folk/rock/roots styles. My only quibble is that his voice is a little weak: shades of Glenn Tilbrook with a slight throat infection! However, this is a rollicking album, full of pleasant surprises, and great for the longer journeys.

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