CD on The Living Tradition LTCD3004
Tradition Bearers series in 2002
The Folk Diary - August/September 2003
Living Tradition - October 2003
FRoots - January/February 2004
Old Time Herald - Summer 2004
Dirty Linen - October/November 2004
THE FOLK DIARY - Sussex August/September 2003
Kieron presents a range of mainly American traditional songs and blues, many of them well-known - "Shady Grove", "Hard Killing Floor", "Rain and Snow", "Deep Ellum Blues - in a way that shows that him to be a great and individual interpreter of traditional song. His voice seeks a very melodic way with all the songs he sings and he has a fine use of dynamic in his approach. He is a very fine guitarist and he has great empathetic support from the banjo playing of his mother, Sara Grey and the fiddler, Kate Lissauer. Kieron is clearly destined to become as highly regarded a performer as his mother was before him. He is certainly a chip of the old block, but one who has worked out his own approach. The album is at its best on trio tracks such as "Shady Grove"
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Living Tradition - Scotland October 2003
This CD is the latest in “The Tradition Bearers” series; released through the auspices of the good folks who produce this magazine. Before anyone cries “nepotism!” I should, perhaps, state that I’m not a staff writer for The Living Tradition, nor am I getting paid for this review. I’m writing it simply because this album is so damn good, somebody needs to say so!
Kieron Means is a 26 year-old American singer and guitarist who grew up in Scotland and Lancashire, surrounded by traditional music and songs. While the term “tradition bearer” might, to many, imply a more elderly person, one listen to this CD proves Means’ incontestable right to be regarded as exactly that. Indeed, throughout these “North American Songs and Ballads,” Means demonstrates exactly what “traditional” singing is all about. He’s not only mastered a repertoire and style, but also absorbed whole strata of the processes and values that form the bedrock of this material.
Ah, the material... Means states in the booklet notes: “of all the music I heard, it was the old-time rhythms, melodies and close harmonies, the tales within the ballads, and the blues I liked best. “ These are, at heart, “simple” songs, but not “simplistic ones.” There’s a deeply powerful, profound simplicity to lines like: “John Lover went to the war, John Lover’s gone.” Just eleven syllables here, but five whole verses in many a songwriter’s attempts at “traditional sounding” efforts. Or, “When it was fair and dry I prayed for rain, but when the rain did fall, the weeds they grew so tall, it’s then I wished the sun would shine again” which encapsulates the eternal dilemma of every farmer that ever there was or is in just a few lines. Few of these 14 tracks clock in at much more than three minutes (“Boll Weevil” is a second under two).
The inherent economy of language leaves absolutely no room for vocal histrionics, and Means delivers every line as directly as you’d answer the question: “what’s the time, please?” That isn’t to suggest that he’s in any way lacking as a singer (his voice is sublime), but merely confirms his total commitment to his songs. Likewise, he demonstrates superb instrumental technique without ever resorting to “showboating.” Whereas the “solo” albums of many artists come packed to the gunwales with guest musicians, Means employs just two - Sara Grey on vocals and banjo, and Kate Lissauer on fiddle. Their contributions are wholly complimentary and utterly flawless.
For those who require handy comparisons, it’s worth noting that Means’ reading of “Hard Killing Floor” would have qualified as a “stand-out” track on Bob Dylan’s eponymous debut album, “Red Rocking Chair” will induce ecstasy in any of the legion of Gillian Welch fans who hear it, and the aforementioned “John Lover” is as irresistibly communicative as anything from peak-era Pete Seeger. Meanwhile, “The Shark Song,” (the sole “self-composed” song here), offers a tantalising glimpse into what might lie ahead for this modest yet authoritative tradition bearer. For now, we’ve got “Run Mountain,” which is, quite simply, a towering achievement.
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FRoots - England January/February 2004
This is a striking debut from a talented young performer. The album is subtitled North American Songs And Ballads and features Sara Grey on banjo and vocals and Kate Lissauer on fiddle and vox, accompanying Keiron Means's own voice and guitar.
A good number of the songs are fairly familiar territory; Shady Grove, Rain And Snow, Deep El/urn and Edward for example, but Keiron's performance makes the album exceptional. His voice is powerful but controlled, and his delivery beautifully paced. It's a very long time since I've heard a version of Skip James's Hard Killing Floor as arresting as this - probably not since I heard Skip James's own version, in fact. If anything, it's the performances of the blues songs that stand out, although the Appalachian songs are well done - Shady Grove with the fiddle and banjo fairly rattles along. He sounds as if he's been singing these songs for years, despite his youth.
The only self-penned song is The Shark Song, a striking lament for the death of a big fish, but it's suggestive of much songwriting potential. Definitely one to watch.
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Old Time Herald - North Carolina Summer 2004
Run Mountain is Kieron Means’ first recording, a companion CD to Sara Grey’s recent Boy, She’s a Daisy release, on the same label. The musician lineup is the same, except that here Kieron sings and plays lead. I was struck by the quality of his singing. Many young musicians in old-time music, especially men, seem to approach the music as instrumentalists. They may do their share of singing and they have the feeling and conviction, but the sound can be a bit thin. Kieron’s voice is strong and agile, reminiscent of Cisco Houston, Ian Tyson of Ian and Sylvia, and of John McCutcheon. His instrument is guitar, but its role is as accompaniment to his voice. Kieron’s choice of material includes Amerian folk songs, ballads and blues, including such songs as “Run Mountain,” the title cut, “John Lover,” and “Hard Killing Floor,” to name a few. Sara is featured on banjo on “Red Rocking Chair,” and Kieron sings alone to a single guitar on “Mountain Fields.” Included are two newly composed songs: Kieron’s own “Shark Song,” and “Lonesome Robin,” by Bob Coltman.
All the material on this CD shows a respect for the genre and a fresh perspective on American folk music. Of the 14 cuts, the majority of the material is traditional—performed in a traditional style with heart. I see that Kieron is out performing on a regular basis. I hope we will see and hear much more from this talented musician.
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Dirty Linen October/November 2004
Kieron Means, the child of an American mother and an English father, was raised largely in Britain but was surrounded at all times by American folk music. These influences have helped him develop a distinctive vocal sound and approach, described by Brian Peters in the CD booklet as "high and lonesome, but rounded." To my ears, his clear enunciation and slight British inflections actually make him sound more Canadian than American, and his singing reminds me a bit of a higher- and sweeter-voiced Garnet Rogers.
On Run Mountain, be uses this pleasant and unusual voice to sing a mixture of old-time songs and blues, with one Irish ballad, a couple of modern songs, and one original number thrown in. Means has taken songs from all over the United States: "Deep Ellum Blues" is Blind lemon Jefferson's evocation of a tough neighborhood in Dallas, while "Mountain Fields" is Pete Sutherland's tale of hardscrabble farming in Vermont.
Most of the songs can't be pinned down so neatly; "Boll Weevil," "Rain and Snow," and "Shady Grove," for instance, were widely distributed, at least in the south. Commercial recording stars like Uncle Dave Macon and Skip James were also sources. Two sad modern songs on historical themes are both impressive; Johnny Whelan's 'John lever" tells the story of a soldier killed in the American Civil War, while Bob Coltman's "Lonesome Robin" is a heart- breaking rumination of the death of Robin Hood on one song, an Irish version of the traditional ballad "Edward,"
Means sings alone and unaccompanied More often, Means backs his singing with guitar, while his mother Sara Grey adds her voice and banjo, and Kate Lissauer contributes voice and fiddle. All the playing is spare and tasteful, and gives the disc an easy old-time feel
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