|Living Tradition Issue 65 Oct/Nov 2005
When I saw Kieron and his mam Sara Grey do a workshop two or three years back, they persuaded me that their music is as relevant today as ever. On getting home from their relaxed session, I was immediately sufficiently enthused as to raid my vinyl collection and dig out my copy of Jean Ritchie's glorious ‘Clear Waters Remembered’, an album I had once adored, but in truth had not played much in recent years.
Well, what do you know?! Two Ritchie songs are amongst the choicest cuts on this CD. Son and mother really do them justice, and they are joined on the album by Ben Paley on fiddle.
What a name that is! As a one-time huge fan of The New Deal String Band, it's great to see that father Tom Paley's musical genes have been so faithfully passed on to the next generation: albeit, to a son skilled in a different instrument.
Mother Sara and son Kieron have the telepathic musical communication that close family members can sometimes achieve. One senses they will stay working together for some years to come. But should they ever totally split, one just knows that Kieron would MORE than "hack it" as a solo artiste.
I liked this album more than I expected, I think because of the eclectic material. Songs that stood out for me were ‘Pat Do This’ (a version of ‘Paddy on The Railroad’ - an Irish emigration song collected in Virginia in the 1950s by John A. and Alan Lomax); Jean Ritchie's ‘The L&N Don't Stop Here Any More’; that perennial favourite ‘The Cuckoo’, and best of all, Barbecue Bob's ‘Mississippi Heavy Water Blues’.
This song deals with the heavy floods that regularly afflict the Mississippi Delta. And guess what coincidentally came up on my muted TV screen the first time I played it? Yep, you got it in one. Harrowing pictures of the New Orleans ‘Katrina’ floods. You could not ask for a more apposite juxtaposition of sound and picture.
As is Fellside's norm, a most handsome liner booklet accompanies the CD. And it has black print on a white background! Will other trendier new labels please take heed? Readable liner notes are SO important: I often give up on them, so painful are they to read.
But I won't give up on this CD. It has enough in it to yield up new meanings and nuances for years to come. That is why this is one album that won't find its way to the charity shop, but will stay in my collection.
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Most Stirrings readers will by now be aware of Kieron's lineage. Sara Grey, one of the foremost exponents of both singing and banjo playing in the old-time mode, is his mother; he was born in the States then grew up in Britain, gaining a love of, and an unbelievable degree of expertise in, music from both countries' traditions. Kieron's previous solo album Run Mountain had already gained him quite a reputation, but this CD, its successor, should ensure the rapid consolidation of that reputation, for it's a rather special product.
Between these two CDs, of course, Kieron had contributed to Fellside's Song Links 2 project, along with Sara herself (who also appears on this new CD, and with whom he's been touring as a duo): I've tried before to get a handle on the special, individual qualities of Kieron's artistry; the nearest I've got is by describing his singing as mellow and understated yet genuinely soulful and in the end immensely powerful, with an unerring sense of phrasing and control, light and shade, and its innate agility often embodying an attractive element of vibrato that seems to derive directly from his mother's singing. Whereas his guitar playing is accomplished and fiery without ever being overtly attention-seeking - in other words, the ideal foil for his voice.
The other particular feature of Kieron's achievement as a performer is that he's very much master of his chosen repertoire; I'm sure this is because – importantly - he really understands its background and context and carries within him. a deep love for its traditions. The material Kleran covers on this CD is broader than even a hardened old-time enthusiast might reasonably expect to hear in the space of fifty minutes. It encompasses traditional folk songs from both sides of the pond (each with its own tale to be told, which is invariably expounded, and succinctly too, in tbe booklet notes), ranging from spirited renditions of The Cuckoo and Pat Do This (aka Paddy On The Railroad) to a telling and beautifully paced treatment of False Young Man (a version learnt from Shirley Collins, we're told) and some rather less familiar but superbly addictive fare like Swannanoa Mountain (from the singing of Roscoe Holcomb).
Kieron also tackles three more modern compositions in the idiom (two by Jean Ritchie, one by Herrick and Thompson) and has contributed one of his own, the. fervent One Day, which definitely qualifies as an album highlight. As do the two even less obvious choices, the blues cuts-especially the first of these, Skip James's I Don't Want A Woman To Stay Out All Night Long, which opens with some outstanding guitar work.
On these last-mentioned tracks, Kieron appears solo, but on most of the rest he's supported by Sara (vocal and banjo) and/or that other son-of-a-realgun Ben Paley, fiddle player extraordinaire (New Deal String Band, McDermott's 2 Hours, Expatriate Game etc.) with a highly individual style all his own.
This sure is one of the finest COs of this brand of repertoire that I've had the pleasure of reviewing this year, and it's better even than I had anticipated having seen Kieron and Sara live on numerous occasions; Paul Adams has captured their essence admirably faithfully. I really can't fault it-well, OK, I've just one minor reservation, hardly worth mentioning I suppose, which is the questionable need to slow-fade-out the very last track on the CD.
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Kieron Means is one of a significant number of young performers who are both tradition bearers and promoters of the music. This album illustrates how and why, at the same time as being a delight to any listener. As the son of the
American folk singer Sara Grey and journalist Andrew Means who formerly wrote for Melody Maker, he was born into the music. His performance, both live and on CD, conveys the sense of it being a part of him rather than something that he has taken pains to develop or imitate. Having been born in the US he spent much of his childhood in the UK and now divides his time between the two countries.
On Far As My Eyes Can See The repertoire is drawn from America, with eight of the tracks coming from collections made during the twentieth century, including those of Cecil Sharp and the Lomaxes. Two Child ballads, 'Harrison Brady', a version of the 'The Gipsy Laddie', and 'Quil O'Quay' will be new to many and deserve to be sung more frequently. Songs from known composers include 'One More Mile' by Jean Ritchie, 'Run, Sister, Run' by Jack Herrick and Tommy Thompson, and two Mississippi blues, one by Skip James, the other Barbecue Bob. An accomplished composer himself, Kieron also includes two of his own numbers, 'One Day' and 'I Worry for this World'.
Bringing together the purity of the ballad style, blues and contemporary influences, Kieron provides his listener with a consistent and coherent performance that deserves an attentive audience rather than be played as background music. His voice is powerful, controlled and rich in tone, his guitar playing superb. On some tracks is joined by his mother on banjo and vocals and by Ben Paley on fiddle, adding another dimension and variety. All are sympathetic to the music.
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Kieron Is accompanied on this new album by Sara Grey (vocals and banjo) and by the ubiquitous and delightful fiddling of Ben Paley. This second solo outing has a more flexible and developed feel than the first album, with more soulful material, which he handles well both on vocal and guitar. There's more holler and blues in the voice, as befits the material, which includes such tracks as 'Mississippi Heavy Water Blues' and 'The L&N Don't Stop Here Any More'. There's also some well measured blues guitar on 'I Don't Want a Woman To Stay Out All Night Long', and banjo and fiddle mingle nicely with vocal from Kieron and Sara on the ballad 'Harrison Brady'.
'Swannanoa Mountain' again shows how well their vocals match, and there's some terrific fiddle on 'Run Sister Run'. 'Pat Do This' Is the American version of 'Paddy On The Railroad', and once again the three Instruments knit together beautifully. If you like the sounds from across the pond you'll love this. I hope he'll be recording another album soon.
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Here is an album that gives sheer pleasure right from the opening track, when Kieron Means (gtr) Sara Grey (bjo) Ben Paley(fiddle) and Linda Adams (harmony vocal), combine on Jean Ritchie's 'One More Mile', attacking the song with a joyous lift that carries on through the whole record. 'False Young Man' the second track is what the description 'Haunting' is all about. I defy any listener not to be moved by it.
And so it goes on, ballads, blues, and traditional sounding contemporary song, all performed with instrumental mastery, deep understanding, and an obvious love of the music that allows the performances to be relaxed and fervent at the same time. Kieron Means is in the top rank of folk artists. Get this album and learn why.
Roy Harris 27 Jan 2006
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Shreds & Patches
To do the easy bit first. This is a CD from Fellside, therefore the recording and production quality is superb with lots of attention paid to the small details.
Kieron Means plays guitar and sings. He's joined by his mother Sara Grey (who needs no introduction) on vocals and banjo plus Ben Paley on fiddle and Linda Adams on chorus vocals.
When I said "he plays guitar and sings" I should have added "and he's very, very good at both". The guitar introduction to One More Mile that opens the CD immediately made me think of Martin Simpson at his best - there's the same Appalachian/blues influence and that casual lyrical quality that makes doing the bloody difficult look (and sound) easy. If you're a guitarist of a nervous disposition who feels a bit insecure about your playing, trust me. Do not listen to this CD.
Kieron was born in the U.S., grew up in Britain and is the son of one of the best UKresident US folksingers, a background that's reflected in his singing and his choice of repertoire. All the songs here are Southern United States in origin, and Kieron moves seamlessly from an utterly convincing Appalachian open-throated "mountain" voice to an equally natural "mainstream old time" style to suit each song in a way that is uncanny - before singing a blues with real conviction. His voice is strong and confident with a "high and lonesome" quality that's almost ageless - he sounds far more assured than most singers twice his age, and with good reason.
His guitar playing is as relaxed and confident as his singing. The guitar underpins the voice, always adding rather than taking away. The emphasis is on the words and tune, not on demonstrating his technical virtuosity (though there's plenty of that in the right places). Sara Grey's singing and banjo playing is used to great effect on the majority of tracks and Ben Paley's Appalachian fiddle is a real asset.
The songs themselves are mostly not traditional but written in the tradition. To me the highpoints are One More Mile and The L&N Don't Stop Here Any More, both written
by Jean Ritchie. There's a nice version of Pat Do This (also known as Paddy On the Railway - but thankfully not the version you're probably used to), a blues by Barbecue Bob (what a stage name!) about the Mississippi floods of 1927 (massive flooding in that part of the U.S. has been going on a very long time) a couple by Kieron himself... in fact there isn't a duff one here.
"Far As My Eyes Can See" is an excellent collection of United States rural music at its best and not a rhinestone or fake emotion to
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Kieron has a strong beautifully controlled voice and his sense of pacing is well nigh perfect. Accompanied on this CD by Ben Paleyand his mother Sara Grey (the American folk singer) it is clear that he has grown up within the tradition and absorbed the best of it. Blues, bluegrass and mountain music mix their influences fruitfully. False Young Man - Quil O'Quay - Harrison Brady (a version of the Gypsy Laddie) - Drunkard's Lone Child - and Swannanoa Mountain are particularly fine.
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It is his lonesome, almost pleading voice that is Kieron's most outstanding and distinctive quality; It Is so suitable for the range of American songs that he sings. Listen to the slow and deliberate way he sings False Young Man and you'll hear some of the most highly emotionally charged singing that has been recorded recently. Maggie Holland correctly identifies a timeless quality in Kieron's singing in her short description of him. It is not such a long time since his previous album on the Tradition Bearers label was released, but this album shows that this important young performer continues to make great strides.
As on his previous album, Kieron chooses to record in the company of his mum's banjo and a fiddle player: this time It is Ben Paley, and in his old-timey mode, he is an excellent foil for Kieron's voice. As well as contributing banjo, Sara Grey also provides some delicious harmony singing and it is this that makes The Farmers Daughter such an outstanding track
Kieron includes two of his own compositions here and One Day and I Worry For The World show that he also makes progress as a songwriter; both have that plaintive feeling that suits him so well. This album comes strongly recommended as does Kieron's riveting live performances, both on his own and with Sara.
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Folk On Tap
Kieron's mother, Sara Grey, is one of the finest interpreters of traditional ballads you could wish to hear. Her son has clearly inherited her unmistakeable style and her love of traditional song but has also brought a great deal of individuality to the music. Accompanied by Sara on vocals and banjo and Ben Paley on fiddle, as he often is on stage, Kieron presents a mixture of traditional songs, his own compositions, and pieces from twentieth century sources like Jean Ritchie, Skip James and The Red Clay Ramblers.
First up is Ritchie's 'One More Mile' with the ensemble in full cry, followed by 'False Young Man' as learned from Shirley Collins; and Skip James' plaintive solo blues - 'I Don't Want A Woman To Stay Out All Night Long' - which exemplify the moods of the album. There isn't a bad track but 1 must single out one two for special mention. Jean Ritchie's 'The L&N Don't Stop Here Any More' is a wonderful song in anybody's hands and one which I suspect Kieron first heard at his mother's knee and 'Harrison Brady', a version of 'Gypsy Laddie' compiled by Dave Arthur, is a cracker. With perhaps unfortunate timing, Kieron also covers Barbecue Bob's 'Mississippi Heavy Water Blues'.
Kieron plays guitar and is blessed with a big voice that has just of hint of Stan Rogers about it in the lower registers but the combination of influences from both sides of the Atlantic have produced a very individual sound that is as timeless as his material. Enthusiastically recommended.
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Sing Out October 2006
Sara Grey, an American singer of traditional ballads who is a long resident in the United Kingdom, and her talented son, Kieron Means, have simultaneously released these fine CDs of primarily traditional material on which each performs some songs solo and is backed by the other and/or fiddler Ben Paley, the son of original New Lost City Rambler, Tom Paley, on others.
Grey's singing is seemingly effortless on her collection. As longtime fans would expect from a Sara Grey album, she accompanies herself with her expertly frailed banjo on old-time songs like "Lazy John" and "Pretty Crowin' Chicken," and also turns in some fine a cappella performances on ballads like "Barbara Allen" and "Pretty Saro." Despite Grey's long residency in the UK, she opts for versions of these ballads collected in the United States. There are also several songs where she sings, but leaves the playing to her son (and sometimes Paley). These include a haunting rendition of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," that is very different from Hank Williams' original, and a moving version of "Black Water," Jean Ritchie's powerful protest song about environmental destruction in Kentucky coal country.
Means, who plays guitar in old-time and blues styles, also turns in fine versions of two Jean Ritchie songs: "One More Mile," a couple's conversational song about their forced economic separation, and the often-recorded "L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," which laments the economic devastation that happens to a small coal town when the local mine has been played out.
Other highlights on Means' CD include "Run Sister Run," a traditional-sounding murder ballad written by Jack Herrick and Tommy Thompson of the Red Clay Ramblers for a Sam Shepherd play, and a rousing version of "Swannanoa Mountain."
Given the interchangeable personnel, one could almost look at these two separate CDs as a double album; and as a double album that holds up well throughout.
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Dirty Linen Feb/Mar 2007
Kieron Means, the son of Sara Grey, was born in the United States and grew up in Britain. He is a singer and guitar player of great skill, and this album was recorded in the same session as his mother's; hence, it contains the same musicians. It's amazing to hear such a mature voice emerge from someone with such a young appearance. Obviously a life-long lover of folksong, he attacks the opening Ritchie-penned "One More Mile" with marvellous intensity, backed by Grey's strong banjo picking. The song selection is inspired, from rousing renditions of "The Cuckoo" and "Pat Do This" to a distinctively tender rendition of Shirley Collins' "False Young Man." "Swannanoa Mountain" owes much to the singing of Roscoe Holcomb, while he displays a fine handling of blues guitar on the Skip James number, "I Don't Want a Woman to Stay Out All Night Long."
The album has very complete and informative liner notes. Not only are the singers highly respectful of and knowledgeable about traditional music, but they are the natural heirs to carry the music forward to whole new generations.
Lahri Bond (Leverett, MA)
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Penguin Eggs Magazine, Issue No. 32, Winter 2006.
As reported in the last edition of this estimable publication, there’s bit of an old-time mountain music revival underway in Canada. This recording goes to show that it has also spread to the shores of Old Blighty.
Keiron Means is the son of the traditional singer Sara Grey. He was born in the United States and grew up in Britain, being exposed to and falling in love with the music of both traditions. This collection features a couple of originals, a few trads, and covers of songs by the likes of Skip James and Jean Ritchie.
Keiron supplies fine guitar and singing, ably assisted by the aforementioned Sara Grey on vocals and banjo and Ben Paley on fiddle. There’s an effortless feel to this disc and a great atmosphere that really helps get the songs across. The accompaniment is sparse but fits the songs like a glove. An excellent recording.
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