Album Reviews

Album Reviews

Review of Into the Well by Liverpool Sound and Vision

Who needs a good horror story to send the chill up the spine, the encouraging shiver of keen anticipation of a set of songs that place the hairs on the back on the arm to full attention and the wide eyed look of appreciation at a haunting piece of art? Who needs a good horror story when the beauty of four female voice well versed in their craft can achieve the same effect without the need to keep one eye open and clutching a loved one tight with fear rather than affection.

The Poozies may have slimmed down to a four-piece but the sound of a quake stirring in the heart, the quiver of the blank machine finding a reason to resonate and keep time with the beautiful combination of a sensational fiddle, guitar, accordion, harps and heartbreaking vocals that are wall to wall in Into The Well are truly as expansive as they are evocative and memorable.

The past may loom large in the thoughts of the lyrics, both personally and as part of the far reaching effect that the traditional has when looking for inspiration in which to explain the present. However, The Poozies are more than resilient, more than capable in which to handle the responsibility that comes with performing such music to a section of society who holds the truth in their very fibre of being.

What comes through, almost seismic in its fluid-like state is the passion, the chase of the perfect and the very real honesty that all four women perform with. In tracks such as Southern Cross, Sally Barker’s new and rather exquisite song of revenge from beyond the shadow of death in Ghost Girl, the sometimes painful memory that sits in Small Things in the Cupboards, the sense of forgotten time in Achiltbuie and the all encompassing Celtic that weaves its way through the ten tracks.

For Mary Macmaster, Sally Barker, Eilidh Shaw and Mairearad Green, Into The Well is a huge return, an album that really tears in the thought of past and present and how the framing of Time is not without casualties and heroes.

There is no need to look any further than Into The Well for the shiver of anticipation and the accuracy of personal truth that the traditional allows.

Ian D. Hall

Review of Into the Well on folkradio.co.uk

Since the 2009 release of The Poozies’ last album, Yellow like Sunshine, the band has been trimmed to a four-piece, with the 2012 departure of founding member Patsy Seddon. The current line-up – founder members Mary Macmaster and Sally Barker have reconvened with long-time members Eilidh Shaw and Mairearad Green to create Into the Well, their fifth long-player in a 25 year career. That’s not to say that they’ve been slacking: aside from touring, they’ve been busy with their individual careers and an impressive catalogue of collaborations, with the more recent including Mary working with Sting on his album If on a Winter’s Night while Sally was a perhaps unlikely participant in the BBC’s the Voice last year, reaching the final and performing with Tom Jones.

Produced by Mary’s musical partner, percussionist Donald Hay and recorded by the band’s live engineer Joe Peat, the new album is a further collection of the Poozies’ skilful arrangements and masterful interpretations of traditional songs and covers, alongside five of their own compositions.

Accordion and harp launch the fast-paced, invigorating Percy’s, a four-tune medley starting with Duchess of Percy, the first of the album’s three traditional pieces that melds into a rousing fiddle and accordion arrangement of Capercaillie’s La Paella Grande, Mairearad’s accordion-led Pam Holden’s Reel and a rather jolly version of Simon Bradley’s Alone in the Castle.  Deep, dark electro-harp notes usher in Southern Cross, with a calm backing ‘heave ho’ sea shanty refrain.  This isn’t a work song, though; Sally’s delectable vocal tells Andy Griffith’s tale of a Second World War pirate ship and the strange life led by its crew while they spend a gruelling four hundred days at sea.

Mary’s harp-work gives an unusual electronic poppy feel to the beautiful traditional puirt a’beul Chuirinn, which is paired in another medley with the lively accordion and fiddle of Memoirs of a Geezer, which Mairearad composed for her brother.  Another of Mairearad’s pieces follows – the gorgeous epic soundscape Actiltibuie fires the imagination to conjure images of what life must be like in the idyllic village lying on the northwestern coast of Scotland.  The welcoming atmosphere takes a chilling turn with Sally’s new song Ghost Girl, which documents a return from beyond the grave to attack a less-than-truthful former lover.  The lyric’s description of the narrator’s demise is beautifully poetic: “I followed my heart into the valley of oblivion where Death threw his velvet cloak over my head and that same dark sky came crashing over me,” while a midpoint harp part is appropriately both haunting and hypnotic.

A collection of polkas exorcises the spirit and reinvigorates the soul to prepare the way for the Poozies’ earworm-planting version of Tim Dalling and Julia Darling’s celebration of life’s detritus, Small Things in the CupboardsEoghan, a second traditional puirt a’beul is served as a sandwich between the film noir-like opening and glistening harp of Donald Shaw’s Men in the Mountain and Steele the Show from former and founding band member Karen Tweed.  Some listeners might recall the melancholic breath of country air that is Three Chords and the Truth from the closing credits of the BBC drama Case Histories, where Lynn Miles’ original recording was used.  It’s positioned in a similar setting here as the album’s stripped back final track.  Gone are the electric slide guitars and banjo, to be replaced by simple strummed acoustic and the Poozies trademark sound.

The band’s skilful arrangements and thrilling playing ensure that the their original pieces sit comfortably alongside carefully chosen covers and traditional high-energy Gaelic puirt-a-beul, jigs and reels.  With Into the Well, The Poozies have created another sparkling contemporary gem of an album, expertly combining and contrasting genres while keeping a distinctive traditional Scottish feel.

Review by: Roy Spencer

Review of ‘Into The Well’ in Folk Roots Magazine

The Poozies are back with their eighth album, still playing and recording the stuff they like, blithely flitting between musical genres. The line-up for their eighth album is Sally Barker (lead vocal, guitar), Mary Macmaster (harp, electro-harp, lead vocal), Eilidh Shaw (fiddle) and Mairearad Green (accordeon).

With their instrumental sets, they take us on jazzy traditional musical journeys with jigs, reels and funky, self-penned tunes. Eilidh’s lively, syncopated Howie Came Unglued has a slightly Gallego feel to it. The Polkas set has a richly-textured, beefy sound with stonking rhythm guitar.

The songs are typically eclectic choices, arranged and delivered with great dramatic flair. Southern Cross(composed by Andy Griffiths) is about a World War II pirate ship, and opens with electro-harp, fiddle drone and wordless harmony vocals, like a ghostly rowing chant. The big brooding strings and musical shades of light and dark make this atmospheric and unsettling, like a Brecht-Weill cabaret.

Chuirinn is a tasty Gaelic puirt-a-beul with a zesty electro-harp pulse, and Mary on lead vocal. Ghost Girlis an acoustic rock song composed and sung by Sally Barker, with dark, thought-provoking lyrics (“Was it supposed to be love, the thing you said you felt for me?”).

The title of this Poozies’ album comes from the archetypal country ballad Three Chords and the Truth(by Canadian singer-songwriter Lynn Miles, having fun with Harlan Howard’s famous definition of country music). Sally’s vocal has all the expression and power we’ve come to expect, and Mairearad’s accordeon provides perfect accompaniment.

The standout track is Mairearad’s complex and subtle composition Achiltibuie. The harp opens in elegant piobaireachd-style with fiddle drone, and the accordeon takes us into the wistful melody. The piobaireachd theme switches to the accordeon, with rippling sitar-sounding arpeggios on the harp. Wordless human voices pick up the piobaireachd theme, canntaireachd-style, to create a  highly original sound palette. This is beautiful, deeply restful, meditative music from someone who has been composing on an ambitious scale for a number of years now, and who’s best work is no doubt still to come.

Review by Paul Matheson

Review of ‘Into The Well’ in Acoustic Magazine

Sally Barker and her gang have been out there for more than 20 years playing a feisty blend of music that a much as it echoes Gaelic roots, effortlessly crosses the great divide between folk and contemporary music. And even if the line-up has changed from time to time, anchored by Ms Barker’s vocals and Mary Macmaster’s electro-harp, the end result remains the same, the band’s creativity often stunning. Highlights include the beguiling speed freak harmonies that introduce ‘Chuirinn’ and the sensuous ‘Ghost Girl’ – a song of shifting moods and tempos built around Sally’s breathy vocals. The inventiveness of the Poozies’ music puts them light years ahead of the pack.

Review by JP

Review of ‘Into The Well’ in the Living Tradition Magazine 

Over 20 years well-set, the present iteration of the soi-disant ‘first ladies of fusion’, today as live tourists apparently fuelled by copious amounts of Prosecco(!), have produced another fine wellspring of music charged with emotion and energy.

Eilidh Shaw (fiddle), Sally Barker (guitar), Mairearad Green (accordion) and Mary Macmaster (harps) collectively share vocal duties including, of course, more of those well-beloved harmonies. The 10 tracks embrace several tune sets (trad/arr., self-penned and from others, including two tightly woven, characteristically colourful pieces by Karen Tweed), with typically clever segueing and wide dynamic compass, some Gaelic singing and a brilliant choice of stirring songs – a deeply and creepily atmospheric rendition of Andrew Peter Griffiths’ unsettling Southern Cross about a Second World War German piratical ‘ship of the damned’, the bitter-sweet Absurdist charm of Darling/Dalling’s Small Things in the Cupboards about the fate of impedimenta hoarded in ‘the cupboards of monogamy’, and the chilling oblivion of Sally Barker’s wronged Ghost Girl.

Whether the electro-harp’s low-end warmly pulsing rhythmic bass frequencies or plucked high-end tinkling and teeming sounds, propulsive rythmic guitar, or the serpentine intracacies of their accordion and fiddle work, the music is richly varied, alive with dynamic gear changes, tempos, moods and, above all, a winsome catchiness, often hypnotic in its lure. Uniquely gelling, both vocally and instrumentally, in their mutual musical conversation and melodic movement, drawing freely on the ‘enticements’ of many genres of music, their wide musical intelligence and ingenious interplay remain instantly recognisable and distinctively original.

Review by Kevin T. Ward

Review of ‘Yellow Like Sunshine’ In ‘Folk Roots’

The Poozies started life in 1990 as a result of the harp duo Sileas (Mary Macmaster & Patsy Seddon) joining forces with singer-songwriter Sally Barker. It’s easy now to forget how long the Poozies have been around and what pioneers they have been. Back in 1990, it was unusual for Gaelic songs to be recorded by singers who weren’t native speakers; now it’s common. Back then, all female folk bands were a novelty; no one bats an eyelid at it now. And from the beginning, the Poozies have played and recorded the stuff they like, blithely flitting between musical genres.

After an absence from the band, Sally Barker is back again for this, their seventh album. The current five-piece line-up is harp, electro-harp, guitar, fiddle, and accordion, all five vocalists (three of them taking turns as lead vocal). Throughout the album the musical arrangements are both imaginative and polished, the sparkling harp and guitar sounds combining with the warm glowing tones of Eilidh Shaw’s fiddle and Mairearad Green’s accordion to produce a rich, multilayered sound texture and the Poozies continue to enjoy mixing it up. The album contains two of Sally Barker’s own contemporary ballads: the gutsy pop song ‘Canada’ is strikingly spliced together with ‘O Mo Dhuthaich’ – a 19th Century Gaelic song of emigration to Canada. Another (18th Century) Gaelic song, ‘Ho Mhorag’, is given an engagingly inventive arrangement; the opening bluesy guitar riff is sustained throughout the song, but joined and transformed by the plangent harp. Patsy provides the fine Gaelic vocals on ‘Ho Mhorag’, and also on the beautiful Irish song ‘Am Paistin Fionn’, here sumptuously arranged and ingeniously spliced together with Charlie McKerron’s ‘Fionn’s Tune’.

The whole album has great musical and vocal variety; Gaelic classics juxtaposed with contemporary bluesy pop songs and five-part vocal harmonies. Long may the Poozies’ sun continue to shine!

Review by Paul Matheson Jan-Feb 2010 Edition

Review of ‘Yellow Like Sunshine’ on ‘NetRhythms.co.uk’

Good news that, with Sally Barker having rejoined fellow founding members Patsy Seddon and Mary Macmaster and Karen Tweed departed the line-up, the Poozies have resurfaced sounding as fresh as a daisy, still featuring Eilidh Shaw (who replaced Kate Rusby who originally replaced Barker) on fiddle and vocals and with new recruit Marearad Green on accordion and pipe drone.

As with their last release, the material’s very much informed by Celtic roots, a meld of the traditional, self-penned, and covers, kicking off in bluesy form with Seddon taking the (Gaelic) lead on ‘Ho Mhorag’, before segueing into fiddle and squeeze box instrumental ‘John Stephen of Chance Inn’.

Barker contributes two numbers; the guitar and harp accompanied immigrant’s tale ‘Canada’ (which gives way to the trad Oh Mo Dhuthaich), and the slow waltzing romantic ‘Two Hearts’. Shaw gets to spotlight her writing and fiddling talents with ‘Col Sig of the 2-2-6’, the coda to their cover of Martin Green’s rousing instrumental ‘The Planxty Lover’. And while Tweed may have departed, she’s left behind ‘Ted Morris’s Christmas Coal Chase’, the cascading midsection sandwiched between Billy and Carmel’s 25th Wedding Anniversary’ and ‘Lovely in the End’ to make an impressively versatile near eight minute instrumental.

The album is equally balanced between instrumentals and songs, the former also jiggingly represented by ‘The Hen’s March’ while the latter are also particularly well served by ‘an Paistin Fionn (Seddon again taking lead) and two superb, acapella showcases for their combined voices and harmonies; McCusker and Tams’ seasonal flavoured anti-war lament ‘Will I See Thee More’ and, emphasising just how much this is a living tradition, a sprightly folk gospel reading of Laura Veirs’ ‘Black Eyed Susan’. Currently out on a short tour, hopefully next year will see much more extensive live blitz.

Review by Mike Davis October 2009

Review of ‘Yellow Like Sunshine’ in ‘Review’ 30-31 Jan 2010

The Poozies are making something of a comeback, with Sally Barker returning to the fold and a new member Mairearad Green (in place of founder member Karen Tweed). Absorbing the changes with minimal disruption, the veteran Anglo-Scottish band confirms with ‘Yellow Like Sunshine’ why it is the British folk scene’s favourite all-female ensemble. ‘Canada’ and ‘Two Hearts’ draw heavily on Barker’s song writing skills and guitar playing, but Patsy Seddon, who sings several traditional Gaelic songs with élan, and fellow harpist Mary Macmaster, whose brogue gives ‘Black Eyed Susan’ a Scottish resonance, also shine on lead vocals. The tune medleys, arranged with characteristic invention, highlight the quintet’s silky instrumental skills.

Review by Tony Hillier

Review of ‘Yellow Like Sunshine’ in ‘Scotland on Sunday’ 18 Oct 2009

Their name might have been taken from Burns’s famous hostelry, and the wanton women therein, but nearly 20 years on the band has matured into the sort of entertaining group any parent would let their daughter join. Alongside the vocals and twin harps of Patsy Seddon and Mary Macmaster, the big, bluesy voice of England’s Sally Barker is back, Eilidh Shaw’s fiddle is now on board with young Mairearad Green’s accordion, and the instrumental power combined with the five voices is remarkable. So is the repertoire as it does old Gaelic, Americana and self-penned songs.

Review by Norman Chalmers

Review of ‘Yellow Like Sunshine’ in ‘FolkWorld Issue 40’ Nov 2009

The Poozies are back – with the return of a familiar face and the departure of a familiar face. The Poozies is an all-female Scottish-English band started some time back in the 1990s, to combine quality songwriting, Scottish traditions and excellent music, with harps, accordion and guitar – and featuring some trademark harmony singing. When the band started, it was centred around English singer/songwriter Sally Barker, who left the band a few years later. The other founding members, Karen Tweed (accordion) and the Scottish harp duo Mary Macmaster and Patsy Seddon, continued with support from new Poozie Eilidh Shaw on fiddle. The latest line-up sees the departure of Karen Tweed but the good news is that Sally Barker has returned, plus there has been an introduction of a fifth Poozie, Mairearad Green on accordion and pipe drones.

“Yellow Like Sunshine” is a strong album for the band, with a rounded sound and mix of tunes and songs. Unlike in the early Poozies days, Sally is less in the centre of the band, which results in a pleasant balance between her and Patsy and Mary’s lead singing. Sally is the lead singer on only 2 songs (both written by herself); Patsy takes the lead in the 3 traditional Gaelic songs on the album, and Mary sings two English songs (Laura Viers’ “Black Eyed Susan” and John McCusker and John Tam’s “Will I See Thee More?”). the instrumentals have a strong focus on the talents of Mairearad’s accordion and Eilidh’s fiddle; they are beautiful, uplifting and full of flair. The combination of fiddle, accordion and paros remains great – while you cannot replace the unique accordion style of a Karen Tweed, the Poozies have found a superb alternative new line-up and this is an excellent album.

Review by Michael Moll

Review of ‘Yellow Like Sunshine’ in ‘Taplas’ Autumn 2009

Listening to the freshness and energy in this album, it’s hard to believe The Poozies have been going for 17 years. Joining forces with original members Patsy Seddon, Mary Macmaster and Sally Barker are Mairearad Green on accordion and Eilidh Shaw on fiddle.

Songs from the Scottish Gaelic tradition are set alongside recently composed ones, a couple of them by Sally Barker. ‘Canada’, a song of emigration, ingeniously frames a traditional Gaelic song. Their tune repertoire is more biased to the newer; favourites are ‘John Stephen of Chance Inn’ and the gently, calming ‘Lovely in the End’. Former member Karen Tweed is thanked for helping to shape and define the Poozies’ sound, and they also play a tune of hers.

It almost goes without saying that their instumental skills are superb, and the combination of acoustic and electro harp, fiddle, accordion and guitar is perfect. They all a turn at vocals, providing a refreshing mix of styles. The close vocal harmonies in John McCusker’s ‘Will I See Thee More’ are subtle, unusual and spine-tingling. A fitting close to another wonderful Poozies album.

Review by Delyth Jenkins

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