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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Mediæval Bæbes - A Pocketful of Posies

Since their formation in 1996 by Katharine Blake and the late Dorothy Carter, Mediæval Bæbes are one of the most successful folk ensembles to come out of England. They’ve released eight studio albums, two live albums, and had three chart-topping releases whilst selling out international tours. Including two Emmy nominations for their soundtrack to the ITV hit period drama, Victoria starring Doctor Who alumni, Jenna Coleman in the title role.

Their ninth studio album, A Pocketful of Posies, follow-up to 2013’s Of Kings and Angels, showcases both the folklore and meanings of the connecting history on Nursery Rhymes. Blake made these embryonic arrangements to the songs with her husband and partner Nick Marsh, singer-songwriter for The Urban Voodoo Machine, and From the Deep back in 2015.

Unfortunately, things took a different turn when Marsh was diagnosed with Cancer in 2014. Sadly, after a 15-month battle, he passed away in June of 2015. Katharine continued working on the album. And throughout her tragedy, music was her reliable hope in escapism. It has these dark and nightmarish visions throughout listening to A Pocketful of Posies. Not only you can feel her pain, but the struggle and the courage to move forwards.

Some of the centerpieces on A Pocketful of Posies, showcases Mediæval Bæbes’ structures of these Nursery Rhymes to a different level (With a little help from Kavus Torabi and Charlie Cawood of Knifeworld). Bye Baby Bunting has some of these operatic vocal arrangements that goes for a few seconds before transcending into this surreal arrangement of the Northettes (Barbara Gaskin, Ann Rosenthal, and Amanda Parsons).

They were a vocal trio that made contributions between Egg’s third and final studio album, The Civil Surface and Hatfield and the North’s first sole self-titled debut album while the voice of a little girl opens up with “Aww, poor Humpty!” begins the dramatic fall of Humpty Dumpty. The sound of piano strings being strummed and the harp having this free-improvisation to the vocals, opens up these minimal approaches that showcase the demise of Humpty’s head being cracked open to deliver some scrambled eggs.

The Grand Old Duke of York begins with Ben Woolacott’s militant drum intro by setting up the medieval (no pun intended) themes of early consort music as the vocals are combined into one by going in one direction and another as they increase the levels of the sound of children having fun in the background with Oranges & Lemons.

From its late ‘60s baroque introduction, There Was a Crooked Man sends the listener into the deep, dark forests by witnessing the old man’s intability to walk before returning to the Canterbury genre in acapella sound that Katherine sings with an eerie scenario on London Bridge is Falling Down. The storm and ominous chills of the magical saw section from See Saw Margery Daw becomes this cackling laugh by creating this nightmarish crime scene gone horribly wrong.

This was my third listen of A Pocketful of Posies and my introduction to the world Mediæval Bæbes. I have to say I was very impressed because I wanted to check them out after I believe reading about them in PROG Magazine many years ago. I’m not quite what year and issue it was, but this was a great introduction to discover this amazing ensemble that captures the styles of Consort, Renaissance, Classical, Minimal, and Folk rolled into one.

With A Pocketful of Posies, Katharine brought everything to a standstill and bringing the Nursery Rhymes into a different scenario. And it works very well. I hope that one day, I will check out their music to see what I was missing. Because this is a very good beginning for me start to delve into the waters of Mediæval Bæbes music.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Rosalie Cunningham - Rosalie Cunningham

"House of the glass red/where we repeat all our past regrets/in a dream from which we never wake/don’t we know/house of glass red’s the end." The lines that Rosalie sings from the third track of her sole self-titled debut album, delves into this darker view of insanity and revealing our own worst enemies are about to unfold.

I could imagine she took some of the inspirations from Damon Fox of BigElf, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Lewis Carroll by taking it a step further and moving beyond the sounds of Purson. After the band folded in 2017 with the release of their farewell single, Chocolate Money, Rosalie took a break. That same year, she recorded an incredible version of The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever with help from her Dad on drums and percussion.

In 2018, she presented some of the material she had been working on last year on her YouTube page on January 13th. And in October of that same year, she launched a PledgeMusic campaign for her solo album. But then, it took a different turn this year. According to the articles by Tosten Burks and Colin Stutz on January 24th from the SPIN and Billboard websites, eight of the acts told Billboards that the website owed them money for completed campaigns.

PledgeMusic which launched 10 years ago, allowed fans to not just pre-order music, but help some of the indie acts fund the albums through direct sales with their fans whose pledges pay out within 30 days for the completion on their projects. But throughout some of the accounts that several managers and artists are struggling to receive payments from their campaigns with PledgeMusic.

It must have been a crushing blow for Rosalie to receive this devastating news in which she talked about the situation along with Danny Vaughn who mentioned about the nightmares of PledgeMusic on his YouTube page on January 23rd. But then on March 28th, something wonderful had happened. She landed to the world of Cherry Red’s Esoteric label.

Home to reissuing bands/artists such as Squackett, Fruupp, Curved Air, The Move, Barclay James Harvest, Renaissance, and Anthony Phillips to name a few, she feels right at home to be a part of the Esoteric Recordings family. Her sole self-titled debut release, is a welcoming return of brining her music that she worked on for two years, is a flower that is ready to burst open.

From its opening riff, Ride on my Bike is Rosalie pounding both the guitar and piano chords through a swirling orchestrated adventure by riding towards the psychedelic dooming grooves that is worth the trip. So you might prepare yourself to do some head-banging in that section before it changees to the fork in the road as she channels some early Pink Floyd by swimming towards The Piper at the Gates of Dawn while the bursting guitars and the drums sound like a tidal waving climax before returning to the center stage for Rosalie to land back on Earth with a high note.

Listening to F**k Love, I could tell that she uses the piano that Bob Dylan did during the sessions for Highway 61 Revisited, but with a different tone as it shares the same journey with the string sections of the Mellotron. Rosalie is very much like the master of ceremonies throughout this song that is about…..well, you get the general idea.

It has this 1920s ragtime sound during the Scott Joplin-era while featuring more of those swirling riffs with a vaudevillian twist that can take you towards the highest landscapes with some heavier clean rhythm sections. I love how on Riddles & Games feature the Marching rhythms with a ‘60s Vox Organ sound before they revved up the motorcycles to kick in with a Garage-Rock attitude.

You can imagine Rosalie is ready to use the battering ram to swing down very hard to blow the doors open with a hardcore punch that is ready to hit at any second. Butterflies is Rosalie’s nod to The Beatles White Album sessions as she tips her Homburg to the fab four as acoustic guitars and mellotron’s fly towards the heavenly snowflake skies.

A Yarn from a Wheel begins with the melodic structure of Dumbo’s Pink Elephants on Parade that Rosalie sings in the style of the composition before changing into a mellowing bluesy tone, revved up rhythms, and into the progressive structures of Peter Hammill as if he was making tea for the Welcome to my Nightmare-era of Alice Cooper. This isn’t just a prog epic, but it has everything in there that goes beyond the Purson sound and Rosalie nails the closing epic to channel both Van Der Graaf Generator and It’s a Beautiful Day before screaming her heart out in the last three minutes of the piece.

I have enjoyed listening to Rosalie’s debut solo release this year. And this is a welcoming return to let the fans of Purson know that she’s back in action and she’s not stopping for anyone blocking traffic for her. She continues to keep the flaming fires burning. And it will keep on burning for eternity.