Folk Club Bonn #138 – ‘Tree’mendous

Old Trees. Has Folk Club had that theme before? If not, it certainly should have. Many is the time now that John Harrison has been found standing under an old oak or a beleaguered birch extolling the virtues of the Green Man. No trees allowed inside Dotty’s of course but Bonn Tree Guardian (Baumwächter) Andreas Thieves was on hand to remind us what these tall and patient guardians of Nature do for us.

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French Night closes Stadtgarten 2023

All good things etc… On Saturday evening it was time for the 2023 Stadtgarten Season to come to an end. The month has flown by and hopefully, there has been something for everyone, that’s always the aim of the Kulturamt der Stadt Bonn led by the tireless enthusiasm of Hans -Joachim Over oder ‘HaJo’ as everyone knows him. Today it was largely French Music Night with local band the Soline Ensemble and French Indie-Pop band The Rodeo, with a warm-up for everyone courtesy of the Bonn inclusion band Project Inclusion. Three bands then – and a 6:30 pm start to cram all the good music in.

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Vanja Sky – Reborn (Kick the Flame Records) – Release date 7 July

In 2018 she was the newcomer on the Blues Caravan alongside Mike Zito and Bernard Allison. In the five years since though Vanja Sky has been building a very solid reputation and an excellent band as shown last year in her appearance at Bonn Harmonie on the mighty Rockpalast. There were some very promising songs on that show from the upcoming new disc. That disc is now coming up for release in July, . Titled Reborn and in comparison to her debut Bad Penny the title could not be more apt.

If you haven’t visited Vanja Sky’s music since her RUF records days then you are in for a surprise, and if you are a fan of hard rock music it will be a very pleasant one. The opener ‘Hero’ gives you a whopping big clue as to where the music has headed with its clap-along opening drum beat perfect for big venues at Rock festivals which is where the current band seems destined to triumph. Indeed, There are big rock riffs throughout the disc and the influence on Vanja’s musical direction of guitarist/arranger Gunther Haas cannot be overestimated. Haas gives ‘Devil Woman’ (remember Vanja wearing those devils horns at Rockpalast – see below pic?) and ‘Rusty Fingers’ a perfect ZZ Top vibe as well as a classic feel to the much covered Humble Pie song ‘I don’t need no doctor’.

Many readers will appreciate the contribution of Roger Innis on so many contemporary blues releases and he was with Vanya Sky in the Studio in Hamburg contributing to the lyrics on ‘can you here life knocking’, ‘Riding high’ and Rusty fingers’ 

Vanja’s rising status is seen in the guest appearances on ‘Reborn’. I remember telling Gerry MacAvoy about a young Croatian girl doing Rory Gallagher’s ‘Bad Penny’ on her debut disc and his promising to check it out – and here Gerry is playing bass on Vanja’s storming rendition of Rory’s live classic ‘I take what I want’. She delivers an excellent version of Ten Years After’s ‘Love to change the world’ too, and there’s Rick Lee from the band on drums.

She may not be the greatest female rock vocalist on the planet, but there’s a quantum leap in Vanya’s voice and confidence here with the songs well calculated to work within her vocal range and kick ass too. Great production work too by Bodo Schulte and Vanya to get a good rock sound from both voice and music.

It’s hard to pick highlights from such a solidly satisfying rock release but certainly ‘Muha’ with the shared vocals of current Nazareth and Don Airey vocalist Carl Sentance is a standout, as is the pop/rock ‘Can you hear life knocking?’. But picking stand-out tracks is literally, well, being picky. Vanja sings on the ballady ‘Runaway’ “I want to fly. Just like Freebird, stay in the sky”, and that tells you where the musical heart of the girl and her band is coming from in 2023 . If you’re a fan of rock heroes like Rory, Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top and co then check out the latest Vanja Sky disc. The cover shows her as a young child on a tv screen next to the lady all grown up in 2022, and, like the lady, the music is all grown up and ready to rock with the best of them.

Lisa Bassenge Trio – Dottendorfer Jazznacht

Don’t shout it out too loud but Dottendorf is rapidly establishing itself as a top address for the modern jazz scene. There are only around two hundred seats available at the Kulturzentrum anyway, and lately you need to get there early to secure one of them. Friday’s appearance by Berlin-based Lisa Bassenge was further proof of the quality music that Dottendorf has to offer jazz fans.

Bassenge enchanted everyone with her current stage show dedicated to the ‘mothers’ of popular music. There are some surprise names in that set too. Dolly Parton’s ‘Wildflowers’, was particularly special for Bassenge, who, as the daughter of an Iranian immigrant knows how it feels to be uprooted

“So I uprooted myself from my home ground and left. Took my dreams and I took to the road.

When a flower grows wild. It can always survive. Wildflowers don’t care where they grow”

An evening of beautiful songs, beautifully sung, taken from a varied and talented selection of music ladies. Tammy Wynette (‘Til I Get It Right’), Lady Gaga (‘Joanne’), Joni Mitchell (‘Woodstock’, Robyn (‘Dancing on my Own’). There were powerful interpretations of songs by men too, especially the meditational flow of Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice’ and the moving Warren Zevon song ‘Keep Me In Your Heart For A While’. Nick Drake’s ‘Parasite’ too was memorable, with dramatic swirling, chaotic piano perfectly underpinning the swirling mind of Drake himself whose genius was blighted by depression.

Bassenge’s husband Andreas Langknew perfectly when to shine and when to blend in (“I loved his playing so much that I married him” she smiled). Almost as powerful as Bassenge’s voice on this emotional evening was the piano accompaniment of Jacob Karlzon who really made his keyboard weep and shout out throughout an evening that will long be remembered by those lucky enough to have discovered this little gem of a concert hall tucked away in Dottendorf.

Getting Wrecked with Robert Jon

For lovers of American southern rock music, The Harmonie was THE place to be last Sunday evening. Hailing from Orange County, California Robert Jon and The Wreck were really on fire for the closing night of their European tour. The only complaint I could make is that Sunday shows have to finish so damn early – who wants to go home from a concert at 9:30 pm? Not when there’s a great band onstage who seem like they would happily play all night!

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Richard Bargel – Dead Slow Stampede (Clementine Music)

First a quick catch-up for those who are not familiar with the name Richard Bargel. Growing up in Bonn Bad Godesberg, Bargel started out as a folksinger but even early on was thinking outside the box and formed his own puppet and theatre company ‘Lumpentheater’. The ’70s saw him building up a following in England by playing at some of London’s premier pubs and clubs (100 Club, Dingwalls, Half Moon in Putney). He was in some excellent company too embracing a mixture of styles with the likes of D.P. (Elvis) Costello and Wizz Jones. The ’70s also saw Bargel forging his blues links through concerts with luminaries of the genre such as Champion Jack Dupree and Memphis Slim.

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Layla Zoe – The World Could Change (Cable Car Records)

It’s been nine years since Layla Zoe and Henrik Freischlader last collaborated on an album together, the result being arguably Layla’s best to date ‘The Lily’. The intervening years have seen Layla with her own band deliver the excellent double disc ‘Gemini’ and 2020’s ‘Nowhere left to go’ which, despite its patchwork band born out of Covid regulations at the time, was by no means a disappointment (see my review on this site). Certainly, the current world situation has created plenty of fuel for creative songwriters, which Layla most certainly is. It’s certainly significant that the last release by Layla was not a music CD but a book of poetry. Given that Layla pours her heart out in every song I was disappointed not to find a foreword in said poetry book – events to hang the words on, so to speak. The same goes for this new CD. The intimacy of the lyrics suggests nothing is pure imagination, everything is experience. Why else call a song ‘Jasmine’? and have a lyric “I’ll care for you tonight, little black and white pearl”. The devil, as they say, is in the detail. And in Layla’s lyrics here, there is always so much tantalizing detail.

As always with Cable Car releases, the disc is beautifully presented, with an eye-catching black and white ink illustration by Caroline Sandmayer who also designed Henrik’s own ‘Missing Pieces’ cover. The very first two tracks illustrate the breadth of emotions on the disc overall. Track one, ‘Dark Heart’ is indeed a dark tale of life at its lowest ebb, yet track two, ‘Honey pie’ is the opposite – a “child of love and light” who, it transpires, plays xylophone. Again there’s that little hint of detail that this is perhaps from real life, and therein lies for me the strength of Layla’s lyricism. How deep do you want to go as listener?

Tracks like ‘The world could change’, ‘Man behind the curtain’ and ‘We’re all the same’ possibly have roots in the turmoil of War that we currently live in – if we are fortunate, only diffusely – through news bulletins. Elsewhere though there is tenderness as “Baby bird, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you fly” and fierceness as in “Life ain’t worth a shit, if we can’t look fear in the eyes”. Finally, throughout the disc, hope is always there. “Every villain, every house of cards, crumbles to the ground” (Truth song), “Secretly we light a candle, whose tiny flame must never waver” (The world could change), because, quite simply, “In the end we’re all the same. We fight to smile and survive. To live and love and be” Am I suggesting this is a very complex disc? Well it is. And then again it isn’t. Good versus Evil. There’s that “tiny flame to disable the evil plans” and the choice to “Stand up in your courage. You don’t have to lose”. If all else fails, there is the haunting final song/prayer ‘Shine brightly‘ that is for me the discs high-point. With all the world’s troubles we can rise up; physically as individuals, and spiritually too- from birth to death “To shine brightly as we transcend. To shine brightly even in our end”

So, I have written a great deal already. Really a powerhouse performance lyrically and emotionally by Layla. Poetry put to music. But this is a music CD and not a poetry book. Of course, the music side is where Henrik Freischlader very much comes in on this disc – as the player of every instrument bar the keyboards (Henrik’s band keyboard player Moritz Führop keeps things ‘in house’ here i.e. Cable Car records). Ordinarily, The talents of Mr Freischlader would be more than enough to embellish any vocalist’s solo disc. Layla though here has set the emotional bar high, and, whereas Henrik’s guitar playing is always tasteful and doesn’t dominate with its Peter Green/Gary Moore Bluesrock tone, I wish he’d kicked a bit more a*s as he does on his own new release for example on ‘Hall of shame‘. Freischlader understandably lets Zoe do the real shining on here, and that’s maybe a conscious decision. The rhythms and beats he provides are all watertight, no complaints technically. No great guitar solos and no bad ones. When one musician plays pretty much everything a ‘live take’ goes out the window, and I rather miss that edginess. Will we ever get a chance to hear Layla take this on the road with her own band? I hope so. The World can change – believe in the Firegirl and her words from the heart.

The World Could Change is released on 11 November