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145. DARIA KULESH “Long Lost Home” (2017). A pre-release review.

(Pic: Daria Kulesh)

(Pic: Daria Kulesh)

Its always nice receive new music from my friend Russian singer/song-writer Daria Kulesh – whether it be as part of the Folk Band Kara, of which she is a member, or in this case more of her remarkable solo work. I’d heard some of the new songs, as they have been part of her solo set for a while now (see my review #45), but I was keen to hear them all in their perfected studio-recorded form.

And so I gladly received Long Lost Home recently for review. I had been wondering how Daria could possibly follow up her marvellous debut album Eternal Child (see my review #35) with her second album; but whereas the debut was about her personal life-experiences, this new work is about the plight of her ancestors. It is essentially a twelve track self-penned concept album (I’ve always been partial to concept albums) – the theme in this case being songs inspired by stories from Daria’s ancestry in Ingushetia (a mountainous region in the south of Russia).

Every one of these beautiful songs has been lovingly teased from Daria’s very soul – and even from the very spirit of her forebears. Every one has a heart-felt story to tell; or a wrong to right. And they are delivered with a passion that only Daria can summon up. They are stories of family and local heroes – and enemies (Stalin comes in for some well-deserved derision). And I have learned a lot from them – musically and historically.

From the haunting opening song ‘Tamara’, we are transported to an exotic place – both geographically, musically and lyrically. The effect of this is quite intoxicating and intriguing, I found. All the songs in this collection are exceptional. I very much liked ‘Safely Wed’ and ‘The Hazel Tree’; but the song I particularly warmed to was ‘The Panther’. This is the true story of local heroine Tangieva, who defied Stalin for the sake of her people. Daria impressively tells of ‘The Panther’ in this song; haughtily singing ‘An Amazon doesn’t serve in an army of slaves’!

The CD comes in a card tri-fold sleeve, with disc fitted one side and lyric booklet on the other – all very well designed and presented, with striking photos of Daria’s ancestral homeland. The booklet has lyrics and of course (typically thoughtful of Daria), plenty of very useful background information on each of the tracks so that the listener can reap as much as possible from the songs.

The album will be officially launched on 23rd February 2017 at Cecil Sharp House, Camden, London, where Daria will be accompanied by several other fine musicians such as Jonny Dyer, and members of Kara too – who have contributed so well to the album. It will of course be available to buy at the gig, or from Daria’s website. PTMQ

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107. KARA’s New album “Some Other Shore” (2016). A pre-release review

(Pic: KARA)

(Pic: KARA)

Its always something of a dilemma for artists deciding which direction to take for their second album (especially if like Folk band Kara, the first album had received so much favourable appraisal). Do you go for what you know and deliver more of the same? Or branch out into pastures new and risk disappointing your fan-base? In Kara’s case (by their own admission, ‘a quirky quartet’) perhaps this dilemma was not so pronounced, as their music is so diverse and unique (and ‘quirky’ of course) that ‘more of the same’ would simultaneously amount to ‘pastures new’ anyway!

Bearing that in mind then, there could be no possibility whatsoever of predicting what new music the band could have come up with for this, their second collection: Some Other Shore. I made a brief mention and recommendation of Kara’s first album Waters So Deep during a review of Daria Kulesh‘s solo album Eternal Child last year (see my review #35). That first album by the band was an impressive opus that held my attention to a remarkable degree, as I’d heard nothing quite like it before – and I feel that I must emphatically say that again for this new offering too!

Kara currently consist of Daria Kulesh (Vocals/guitar/bodhran); Kate Rouse (Hammered Dulcimer); Ben Honey (Guitar); and new boy Phil Underwood (of The Creole Brothers, on Melodeon). In addition, the highly rated Lukas Drinkwater was drafted in for Double Bass; with James Delarre (Fiddle); and Jason Emberton (‘Additional instrumentation’) used as necessary. Jason was also the album’s producer – on which he has done a great job.

New this album certainly is; but having said that, it is still unmistakably Kara – for it retains that celebrated, quirky, Russian-English Folk fusion that makes it unique. The unusual combination of Hammered Dulcimer and Melodeon give a distinctive depth and flavour to the band’s sound – yet neither unduly dominate the overall sound of the songs. Add to that the beautiful vocals of Daria and the skillful guitar work of Ben, and a winning combination is manifest.

It is a twelve-track work of both original songs skillfully penned by the various band members; and of reworked traditional English and Russian Folk songs. They are songs of romance and escapism, as well as sometimes covering thought-provoking contemporary themes. As I expected, a wide variety of style; subject; and emotion is represented – and executed superbly. It is a wonderfully crafted album that has been well-thought out – and works so well. I was privileged to hear a few of these new songs at a Kara gig last October (see my review #78). They were great songs to hear live; and have been thoughtfully recorded in the studio too. My personal favourite tracks from the album are: the dark and demonic opening number ‘Tamara’s Wedding’; and the beautifully haunting – and slightly disturbing – ‘Goodbye and Forgive Me’.

At this current point in time, I have only heard the album as a download, so I cannot comment too much on the CD sleeve – although I have seen it, and it does look very good; with artwork by Daria and Ben. It seems to include all lyrics and an explanation of each song; which is something I love to see among the sleeve notes.

I think whether you are a Kara fan; a Folk aficionado; or a generally open-minded music lover, you will be very impressed indeed by Some Other Shore, as I was; so its a big thumbs up from The Quill! The album will be available from 1st June on the band’s album launch tour. PTMQ

Visit Kara’s website for tour dates etc.

For a review of Kara‘s gig at Haverfolk in October 2015; see my review #78.

For a review of Daria Kulesh‘s solo gig at Lost Horizons Folk Club in April 2015; see my review # 45.

For a review of Daria Kulesh‘s debut solo album Eternal Child, see my review #35.

For a brief mention of Kate Rouse‘s work on Ange Hardy‘s album Esteesee see my review #72.

78. KARA at HAVERFOLK in “The White Horse” PH, Chadwell Heath, Essex. Wednesday, 14th October, 2015. + A few words about the venue; the club; and their Open Floor.

Kara at HaverFolk (Photo: PTMQ)

Kara at HaverFolk (Photo: PTMQ)

Preamble:  I was very pleased to be invited to this gig by Kara‘s Russian singer, my friend Daria Kulesh, back in April when I saw one of her first solo performances, at Lost Horizons Folk Club in East London (See my review #45). I had previously reviewed her excellent debut album Eternal Child; during which I also recommended her band Kara’s seminal work, Waters So Deep (See my review #35). These are both wonderful, unique, and charmingly quirky albums. And a second helping from both Daria and Kara are eagerly awaited! But I hadn’t seen Daria perform with Kara, so I was keen to see her with the band.

The Venue:  was  the 400 year old White Horse PH, in High Road, Chadwell Heath, Essex. The club uses the pub’s ‘Stables Function Suite’ at the rear of the premises, which is accessible from the car park (which apparently is the only pub in Britain to have its own set of traffic lights!) The pub itself is done up quite nicely; but the Landlord maybe could look into a bit of redecoration in the function room. It serves its purpose well enough though. It is a long slender room decorated in a mock Tudor style. At one end is the performance area; and at the other there is a bar (but which was unmanned and necessitated a trek to the main pub for drinks).

Daria sings (Photo: PTMQ)

Daria sings (Photo: PTMQ)

HaverFolk  is a nice little Folk / acoustic club, run by Chairman Peter Walters, and assisted by John Foxen; and by Jill and Margaret. It is known as ‘The Feelgood Folk Club’; and I was certainly made to feel very welcome by everyone I met. The club meets weekly (on Wednesdays, 8 – 11PM) for an Open Session; and about once a month they have a special guest booked. They also get involved in Folk festivals etc.

Kara   means ‘Black’ in Turkish; and ‘Punishment’ in Russian; and the band describe themselves as playing ‘…spirited acoustic Folk with a Russian twist’. But despite Daria’s Russian origins, she has been living in the UK for some years, and the band are based in Hertfordshire. It is a four-piece unit consisting of Daria herself (Vocals, and Bodhrán); Kate Rouse (on Hammered Dulcimer); Gary Holbrook (on Accordion); and Ben Honey (acoustic guitar). From their initials, Daria cheekily refers to them as the KGB! With such an unusual group of instruments, Kara are able to produce some very unique music indeed.

Foxen performing ' ' (Photo: PTMQ)

Foxen performing ‘Stenka Razin’ (Photo: PTMQ)

The band arrived at about the same time as us; and Daria greeted us warmly; and introduced me to the others. Through their work on the Waters So Deep album, I was familiar with them – especially Kate, who also features on Ange Hardy‘s recent remarkable album Esteesee (See my review #72). It was nice to meet them in person though. Kate gave me a brief explanation and demonstration of her Dulcimer, which I found fascinating to hear and see played.

Open Floor There was no support act for Kara – there being enough talent among the club members themselves to fulfil that role; so it is usual (as it is in many Folk clubs) for there to be an ‘Open Floor’ spot where anyone can perform a song or two before the guest plays their set. So on this occasion, several of the regulars would perform one song each.

Yours truly doing Mike Batt's 'Soldier's Song' (Photo By Daria)

Yours truly doing Mike Batt’s ‘Soldier’s Song’ (Photo By Daria)

Of course, there were a variety of styles and talents present which made for an interesting warm-up. Master of Ceremonies John Foxen started proceedings by pulling a Balalaika out of its bag, which he said had been in his loft for years, and had been fetched down in honour of the evening’s special guest! He was joined by Mab, and they played a fun version of the Russian Folk song ‘Stenka Razin’ with the chorus somehow transliterated from ‘Volga Volga’ to ‘Vodka Vodka’!

The best of the other floor spots were, in my opinion; by Ray Spillman who gave us a very good cover of Ralph McTell’s ‘From Clare To Here’ on his lovely Faith acoustic; and by Dave Wilson who covered ‘Silver Raven’ by Gene Clark of The Byrds. But all of the other Floor Spots – from Jane, Tony, Johnny and Clive – were good too.

Volga Boatmen - Peter and John (Photo: PTMQ)

Volga Boatmen – Peter and John (Photo: PTMQ)

But just when we thought the warm ups were over, I was challenged by MoC John, to come up and do a number! Well I hadn’t planned to do so, but not wishing to seem churlish, by writing a review of others without performing myself, I willingly rose to the occasion! I borrowed Ray’s Faith acoustic; and the first Folky song that popped into my head was Mike Batt’s ‘Soldier’s Song’ – or at least, my rendition of it – replete with myriad mistakes! Thinking about it afterwards, I don’t think I’ve played in public for almost a year. I got some applause but I offer no critique!

Kara’s First Set  Then it was time for the headliners, Kara. After an interesting spoken introduction from Daria, during which she described the band’s eclectic music as ‘..a crazy cocktail’; they began with the beautiful ‘Rusalka’ – which is based on a Pushkin poem.  I love this song; and this performance was as perfect as the album version – and a perfect intro to Kara’s music, with the ‘KGB’ each demonstrating their respective skills right from the start, and Daria’s beautiful voice in fine form.

'The Elderley Brothers' - Dave, Ray and Johnnie (Photo: PTMQ)

‘The Elderley Brothers’ – Dave, Ray and Johnnie (Photo: PTMQ)

If we needed more proof of this, we received it with the remarkably named instrumental ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’; and for this, Daria took up her Bodhrán. ‘Seaview’, a chirpy song that I didn’t know, inspired by the Isle Of Wight was next. We were then invited ‘…to venture into uncharted territory – the mysterious domain of the Jazz Dulcimer’! This is a song about powerful City men: ‘The Dance Of Devilry’.

From their album the band then gave us the lovely ‘Mermaid’s Lullaby’, introduced by Kate. Sung in Russian by Daria; and with lovely reverb’ed guitar from Ben, subtle accordion from Gary, and again, the ethereal sound of Kate’s Dulcimer; it was altogether a spell-binding rendition. Another IoW inspired song written by Ben, the charming ‘Union Street’, was played next. And again, as perfect as the recorded version.

Another Russian-sung song ‘Vengerka’ with a very Slavic vibe about it was performed next. Quite a remarkable song, this. Finally the first set finished with the Appalachian version of ‘Scarborough Fair’, called ‘Lovers’ Tasks’, which named different herbs to the traditional English song; and incorporated a Kate composed piece, ‘Black Tea Waltz’. The band then retired for a well-earned break.

The 'Maid with a Dulcimer' - Kate Rouse (Photo: PTMQ)

‘A damsel with a Dulcimer’ – Kate Rouse (Photo: PTMQ)

‘The Elderly Brothers’ and more on a Russian theme:  When proceedings were ready to resume, we were introduced to the ad hoc three-piece guitar band, ‘The Elderley Brothers’ – Dave, Ray, and Johnnie. They gave a fun performance of ‘Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’. Club Chairman Peter was then joined by John and his Balalaika for ‘The Song Of The Volga Boatmen’ – sung in Russian – but Daria was the only one present who could accurately judge the performance!

Kara’s Second Set  began with a ‘…depressing Russian song’ – ‘Life Is Sweet me Lads’ – for which Daria taught us a few Russian words so that we could sing along. It wasn’t actually that depressing – rather, it was a bit of fun singing along. Nice vocal harmonies from Kate on this one. From the album, the Ben Honey written ‘Hunter’s Moon’ followed. It is his idyllic view of the countryside. It is another song that I’m familiar with; and again it was a fine rendition. And this was followed by another Ben-penned song: ‘Carousel Waltz’. It was a new one on me, and I quite liked it.

The rather unusual ‘Stormteller’ was next. Its a lively number that I hadn’t previously heard. Then ‘Made Of Light’ was sung by Daria who was clearly moved whilst singing the poignant lyric. It is about the loss of a personal friend. Delving into the album once more, the band played ‘In Lille’ – about a young lady who is mistaken for a Lady Of The Night! Gary’s accordion was highly appropriate for this very Gallic sounding song. ‘The Wedding Guest’ was played next. It is based on a banned poem by Russian Romantic poet Lermontov. It is another that is very Slavic in feel. Finally from the album again, Daria’s song ‘In Lunenburg’ (which is in Canada) ‘…where you can actually make a living there from busking’. It is a song with a very lively ending which had the audience clapping along. It was a good finishing number – and a great show altogether.

Gary and Ben (Photo: PTMQ)

Gary and Ben (Photo: PTMQ)

Musicianship:  All the songs of Daria’s two-part set had indeed been ‘a crazy cocktail’. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a wide variety of style and genres performed in one night! And all performed with such impressive musicianship. It was a thoroughly entertaining show from the band. It was a mix of their old and new material, with a few trad numbers too. There looks to be a lot of songs practiced and ready for the next album, that’s for sure.

Daria with bodhran (Photo: PTMQ)

Daria with bodhran (Photo: PTMQ)

Daria herself was impressive as usual, not only for her beautiful voice, but as a front-woman for the whole band; having a distinctive hair do, and wearing a striking red dress. She gave an interesting spoken explanation to each song – something that I always think is a necessity. And unlike her solo performances she was largely without personal instrumentation; which meant she was free to make expressive hand gestures whilst singing. She was animated throughout; and was obviously enjoying the night; and this adds to the visual effect of the performance. Her confidence seems to have improved no end too, compared to when I saw her before – although on that occasion she was solo, of course.

Kate was impressive too – mostly for her command of the dulcimer; but her vocal harmonies were good too. She was also interesting when she explained some songs as well. Ben’s acoustic guitar playing was obviously highly practiced and he was amusing when speaking of the fine songs that he’d written. Gary’s accordion playing was subtle and excellent. The instrument has the potential to dominate; but his playing enhanced the overall sound of the band to a high degree; making it unique.

Do Svidaniya!   The gig finished, it was time for congratulations and goodbyes. I had a little chat with the members of the band and some of the regulars; promising to return as soon as possible. This is quite likely. A very enjoyable evening indeed. If you ever get a chance to see Kara’s, or indeed, Daria’s solo gigs – I can recommend both. PTMQ

72. ANGE HARDY “Esteesee” (2015)

Esteesee CD cover (Pic: Ange Hardy)

Esteesee CD cover (Pic: Ange Hardy)

I first met Ange Hardy at Exeter Oxjam last year (see my review #28), where she gave me a copy of her then current album, The Lament Of The Black Sheep to review (see entry #32). That was a fine album indeed (as I said at the time); so I was pleased when she kindly sent me a copy of her latest album Esteesee (her fourth) for review.

Esteesee is a concept album (Ange refers to it as a ‘project album’); ie, one in which all the tracks follow a chosen theme. I’ve been rather partial to concept albums since their heyday back in the ’70s. (Showing my age here!) This collection is based on the life and work of the noted English Romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The title Esteesee is a phonetic neologism apparently coined by Coleridge himself; and based on his initials, STC. I do not have a great deal of knowledge about Coleridge, but I’ve long been familiar with some of his more famous poems – The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, for example; and I’ve always enjoyed them. I was therefore very keen to hear Ange’s interpretation of the great writer’s life and work.

The CD arrived as part of a charming and remarkable promo package, which consisted of: the CD itself, in a deluxe, embossed card, gate-fold cover, and including a large booklet with much useful information about the songs, as well as the lyrics. Also within the package was one of Ange’s hand-made quills (very appropriate for myself, I think!); a bookmark; a blank greetings card; factsheets; and one of Ange’s new calling cards – all wrapped in a specially designed jiffy bag! All this must have cost a pretty penny, and there is no doubt that Ange is going for a high profile promotion (with support from Arts Council England); but its the songs that she has written that are ultimately going to make this album a great one.

Esteesee promo package (Photo: PTMQ)

Esteesee promo package (Photo: PTMQ)

It is a collection of fourteen original songs; all apparently penned in January this year! I knew her to be an incredibly prolific and inspired writer, but 14 songs in one month is quite astounding – especially as the quality of her work does not diminish with its quantity! Far from it; as in my opinion, this album outshines even the wonderful Black Sheep album. It is, in short, a magnum opus in every respect! The difference between this work and her earlier albums, is that whereas the previous recordings were very personal, this one shows her capable of empathising with; and interpreting; another’s mind: ie, Coleridge’s.

Listening to the album, it is unmistakably ‘Ange’ in style, yet explores fresh musical pastures too. Her distinctive trade-marks of mature song construction; thoughtful lyrics; beautifully clear singing and wonderful vocal harmonies, are all there to hear and enjoy as usual. But with these strengths, she has created a masterpiece of interwoven textures throughout the album that demands listening to it as a single work of art, rather than as a collection of individual songs.

Having said that, there are in my opinion, some points that stand out, even when considered amongst the high quality of the album in general. Certain songs I like very much indeed: ‘William Frend’; ‘George’; and the title track ‘Esteesee’. Also I like the various narrated parts throughout the work (ever a useful tool for those making a concept album!)  But my personal highlight of all is the spoken poem ‘Kubla Khan’. Ange, on guitar,  is joined in this remarkable rendition by the reader, Tamsin Rosewell; and the ‘…damsel with a dulcimer’ Kate Rouse (whose impressive work I know from her association with Daria Kulesh and Kara).

The album was recorded at Beehive Studios; and there were twelve notable session musicians employed by Ange – herself, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist – in the making of this album (too many for me to name here; but I’d refer the reader to the album sleeve notes for details).

In listening to this album, I have not only experienced some wonderful songs; but in so doing I have also learnt a lot about Coleridge too. This is yet another brilliant Folk album that this year has produced. I’m still awaiting a couple of others, but not much will surpass this collection, I’d say; and I recommend it highly – I’d say its a must! PTMQ

The album is released today (24th September); and Ange will be taking it on tour ‘Along The Coleridge Way’, from Nether Stowey to Lynmouth, in October. See her website for details…

   http://www.angehardy.com/

35. DARIA KULESH “ETERNAL CHILD” (Folkstock Records, 2014)

DARIA KULESH: 'Eternal Child' (Photo PTMQ)

DARIA KULESH: ‘Eternal Child’ (Photo PTMQ)

Recently I was unexpectedly contacted by singer-songwriter DARIA KULESH (a friend of ANGE HARDY – see my review on this blog #32), who sent me a link to the FOLKSTOCK RECORDS website which contains songs from her new album Eternal Child; and she wondered if I’d be interested in writing a review. After a quick listen, I certainly was.

The album is a collection of ten songs, all penned by Daria herself; and all based on her life experiences. They are therefore very personal in content – and unique in concept.  Each is lyrically very strong and interesting too. This is all the more remarkable considering that Daria’s first language is Russian; yet her English vocabulary is excellent, and this is manifest in the well penned song lyrics. My personal favourite among this collection, is the haunting ‘Letting Go’; yet all of them are excellent.

She sings them beautifully, too;  her voice, a joy to hear. Her vocal style reminds me – to some extent – of several folk singer-songwriters of the 60s. Although I’m not an expert on this genre, I do hear a little of Baez; Collins; Felix; and Sonja Kristina in there. She has also been compared to Peggy Seeger and Kate Rusby by other writers.  Yet at all times she has her own style that is unique and remarkable; and this is due to her eclectic influences – tangible in both her vocals and her song-writing.

Various musicians have been recruited as necessary by Daria for the project. These are BEN WALKER (Multi-instrumentalist); LAUREN DEAKIN-DAVIES (Guitar & Keys); LUKE JACKSON (Vocals & Guitar); KATE ROUSE (Hammered Dulcimer); and KAITY RAE (Cello). And I must say, they have all done a fine job for her too.

The cover is of the card gate-fold album type – which I prefer. One side contains a leaflet, safely tucked away, with printed lyrics and credits etc.  From this leaflet we learn that each song is personally dedicated to someone in Daria’s life – a lovely touch.  I highly recommend this album if you have a penchant for unique folk songs; thoughtful lyrics; and beautiful female vocal.

Daria is also a member of the folk group KARA; which she described to me as ‘…a quirky band with Russian influences’. She sent me a copy of their debut album Waters So Deep, which is also remarkably good. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to do a full review on this; but I do however recommend it highly as well. If you like Daria’s solo album, then you’ll like this too.

Here is a link to the Folkstock website:

http://folkstockrecords.bandcamp.com/album/eternal-child-daria-kulesh

Here is a link to Daria’s website:   http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

PTMQ