Album Reviews

"Dance Of Life" Album Reviews

David Kidman - H.oT Productions, June 1997

TUNSRUMP territory, this! (Totally Unknown Name Surprises Reviewer More than Pleasantly...) I actually like this one very much. Elaine's from Richmond - the Surrey one (but we won't hold that against her!), which may explain her "unknown" status hereabouts. This album is not totally representative of Elaine's solo live act (which I caught at the Topic a few weeks back), firstly in that it consists entirely of her own songs, and secondly in that on just over two thirds of the songs she is joined by some or all of her "Kindred Spirit" band (three fine instrumentalists who also contribute some harmony vocals). Elaine is, however, an expert self-accompanist (on guitar, banjo and cittern) in her own right.
As a singer-songwriter, Elaine subscribes to neither political polemic, oblique philosophical nor soul-baring confessional vanity schools; she has a plainer, more direct style of writing which is, however, still capable of portraying emotional responses and conveying a very human concern. She does this thoughtfully, perceptively and unpretentiously, with true and natural feeling. There's nothing provocative or contentious here, sure, but at the same time Elaine never allows things to get too cosy or unchallenging. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I do get a strong sense of the "fin-de-sixties" optimism, the down-home folk-pop/rock spirit about many of the songs (indeed, about some of the music making too). I was at times put in mind of the classic first "Trees" album, and even "Principal Edwards Magic Theatre" (OK so what if I am that old?!), with their intriguing mix of the traditional and "new-age" progressive, the humane values and the age-old storytelling / performance-art aspect. There's a charm about Elaine's songs that transcends any potential derivativeness, however.
I particularly liked the warm sincerity of "Just Go On" and "You Just Have To Believe", and responded to "Feelin Free", which so captures that mood of release, exultation and anticipation on setting out north of Watford and into Scotland (for I know it only too well). As an indication of the variety of styles on this album, I was impressed by "Elizabeth", a cittern-rich minstrel-lay with Eastern European inflections, and the banjo led "New Frontier", a tale of pioneers, where Elaine demonstrates her mastery of the frailing technique. So many of Elaine's songs are strongly memorable, though some use non-standard time-signatures and - like the title track - are unusually structured, whereas others break into traditional tunes suddenly but quite naturally, never seeming awkward or just tacked on. (Elaine's just as much at home in the traditional idiom too, as evidenced by her live act. Her singing style may be mellow and considered rather than intense and upfront, but she is still very much capable of expressing emotion).
The opening track, "Catch The Wind" (no not that one!) sets the pace - well, breezily (sorry!). With the very first entry of Elaine's vocal, you notice the individual timbre, with a freshness of both style and delivery. Her voice sounds innocent yet knowing, with at times a hushed, almost confidential air, a distinctively breathy yet breathlessly childlike (as opposed to childish) quality which almost belies her maturity of outlook. Although a strong voice, it's never strident, being well controlled and with a good even range. And Elaine always sounds genuinely involved in her songs without overstating her case.
Also notable right from the start of this opening track is the wind-tossed, swooping and swirling violin of Jane Eldridge - imagine a kind of Scarlet Rivera - meets - Carole Pegg, and you'll have a good idea of her joyously restless playing style. There's a slight downside to this and some of the other full - band - accompanied tracks, though, in that just occasionally the arrangements detract from the power of the songs when, by their sheer busyness, the arrangements get to swamp the words or the lead vocal lines; in one or two places I feel the backing vocal responses are over-harmonised perhaps. But there's no denying the accomplishment of the three band members - Joey Burke's bass lines are often inventive but never obtrusive, while Mike Patton's mandolin playing is at once sensitive and forceful, as demonstrated by his solos on "Just Go On" and "Thomas Nuttall". The last mentioned track, a whimsically humorous tale of an early botanist, which crosses bluegrass with Egyptian sand-dance rhythms, is (sonically and stylistically) perhaps too close to "New Frontiers" for comfort, and "The Tunnel Song" suffers for me from being based on an identical rhythmic figure to the final track, "I'll Always Love You".
Finally, the recording seems good and full, and oft I cursed the many limitations of tape playback - so I'm really looking forward to hearing it all properly when "The Dance Of Life" is released on CD later this year.

ELAINE SAMUELS ĎDance of Lifeí CD reviewed by Max Wilde

As I have said more than once, the best music I hear these days is predominantly acoustic based and seven times out of ten composed by female writers.

Elaine Samuels is one hell of a busy lady, doing solo gigs, as well as playing as a duo and leading a five piece band up and down the country, and the fifteen tracks are all whatís the cd like then? Well itís an eclectic (look it up in a dictionary) mix of trad and modem folk featuring an assortment of -string instruments such as viola (I used to play one of those!), cittern and banjo, and she has a really distinctive Ďhuskyí voice (at times the name Melanie Kafka springs to mind). From this cd itís obvious why sheís getting a lot of work.. thereís quite a bit of talent here and from what I hear on the cd she has the band to perform it live. ..however (oh here it comes, the bad bit).., Well I must admit (and I speak here as a performing musician AND a reviewer) Iíd like the cd to have had a bit more production to it. As it stands it comes across as a well recorded, well played live gig. Now thereís nothing wrong with that in itself, itís just that it leaves me thinking how much better it could have been. Now donít get me wrong I think itís a good cd and I play it home. ..what I mean is there are some tracks that appear to be screaming out,say, for a bit of percussion whilst others would benefit from a bit of adjustment to the TONE of the violin, or maybe a couple of tracks with a keyboard on. Now before everyone gets on my back saying there isnít actually a drummer or keyboard player in the band, the point Iím trying to make is that given all the facilities of a studio and that given that this is a cd, I donít think the listener would have minded a little studio Ďtrickeryí. I donít mean a full Clannad job either. The point Iím really trying to make is that if I had bought this at one of their gigs (with the benefit of having seen them perform live and put their personalities to the songs) Iíd be more than happy with this cd. As it is, it took me quite a number of plays to actually get to their personality. I suspect this recording was mixed either by the group themselves or someone close to them, and as Iíve said before thatís not a good thing as anyone close to the band hears things that arenít really there. Even the Beatles and Dylan never mixed their own tracks.

Well there you go then, I hope this doesnít sound like a negative review! Iíve actually played this and thought about it more often than I would usually do. Elaine and her band really are quite good and appear to be well worth seeing live (and they really do get around). Iíll certainly be going to see them when they play my neck of the woods (if they let me in!) and I really look forward to getting their next release. As I started, much of the best music of today is both acoustic based and performed by females (come on lads!) and Elaine Samuels just goes to support that argument. With all the groundwork she and her band are putting in, and with a more imaginative production she could very well come up with a classic album. Blimey thatís the longest review Iíve ever done!!!

Elaine Samuels: Dance of Life - "Folk On" magazine issue no. 73, Winter 97/98

Elaine Samuels is an established singer/songwriter from London. This cassette contains 13 of her songs, 1 co-written, running to a generous 55 minutes. 4 tracks are solo, on which Elaine plays cittern or banjo instead of guitar. On the others she is accompanied by 3 members of Kindred Spirit -Jane Eldridge on violin & viola, Mike Patton on mandolin & guitar, & Joey Burke on bass.

The songs are in contemporary vein lyrically, but often given a traditional feel not only by the frequent use of minor keys & key signatures like 6-8, but also by the inclusion of specific tunes. The melody which carried Fairportís version of Matty Groves crops up in jig tempo on Bard, and Green Man is topped & tailed by an Irish reel.

Jane plays swirling violin in a style reminiscent of Scarlet Rivera on Bob Dylanís Desire on the opening of Catch The Wind; and makes an excellent contribution throughout. Technically she is a very accomplished player & makes a perfect foil for the voices & other instruments. The title track mixes slow & quick ternpi seamlessly. Thomas Nuttall (published Folkwrite 61) concerns the exploitation of a 19th century botanist & features a fine mandolin solo. Side 1 finishes strongly with Just Go On, with some fine vocal harmonies & a faultless arrangement for the instruments. The Tunnel Song, about the Channel Tunnel, was inspired by Elaineís former career as an engineer. New Frontier is simply & effectively accompanied on banjo, and the full band returns for the closing Iíll Always Love You. This has some robust rhythm guitar & more good vocal harmonies - it almost needs a drummer as well.

Altogether this is a well-crafted and fresh-sounding album, enhanced by a clear & bright recording. Recommended.

                                                                                                                                                            - David Crofts

DANCE OF LIFE - Elaine Samuels & Kindred Spirit - RKRO15 - Folk Roundabout, Issue 105 - Sept/Oct 97

Elaine Samuelsí cassette is all self penned work, even though the titles Catch the Wind and Iíll always love you have already rather famously been used. She is accompanied by the Kindred Spirit Band on 6 tracks, who consist of Jane Eldridge on violin viola and vocals, Mike Patton on mandolin and Joey Burke on bass guitar and bodhran. Elaine plays guitar, cittern and banjo. She does 4 solo tracks and the remainder of the 13 are as a duo with Jane.