Advance reviews for 'Dream of the Miner's Child' - Album release show in NYC, December 2012.
4 1/2 STARS A beautiful blend of old-timey, folk and alt. country that all ties together perfectly - American Roots UK See full review at American Roots UK
4 STARS Enchantingly fusing Anglo-Americana sounds with a superb Yorkshire accent, Jan Bell has a wonderful knack of breathing new life into time worn folk tales and rare used human stories Yorkshire-born Jan Bell’s latest album pays tribute to her family’s coal-mining roots with a series of songs from both sides of the Atlantic including a handful that she wrote herself. She’s lived in New York for the past 20 years, but listening to her sings such ‘English’ songs as “Dirty Old Town or her own “Yorkshire Water” it’s plainly obvious she’s not forgotten her Yorkshire roots.
Her music is steeped in what used to be referred to as ‘traditional’ country music … that is the pre-Second World War variety typified by the original Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Aunt Molly Jackson. The title song that I have versions by Marty Robbins, Vernon Dalhart and others, was originally a Welsh song from 1907, and Jan brings a heartfelt, personal feel to the song, inspired in part by her grandfather’s forty-odd years as Yorkshire mining. A more contemporary look at mining comes with Darrell Scott’s evocative “you’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” a song steeped in Kentucky but universal with its message.
She steps into Woody Guthrie territory with “Union Sea” a song that he penned to which she’s added music and pays tribute “Aunt Molly Jackson” with a touching song that has been adapted from a letter that Jackson sent to Sing Out! the American folk magazine.Far from solo effort, Jan is supported by many like-minded singers and musicians including veteran Appalachian singer Alice Gerrard, Jolie Holland, Samantha Parton (of the Be Good Tanyas) Casey neil, Will Scott and members of the Maybelles and the Carper Family. But Jan Bell is the one who has pulled this album together and stamped it with the full breadth of her talent. Alan Cackett Maverick Magazine.
I just listened to the new album and love it! Really great singing and tune selection (I really, really like the ones you penned) I appreciate you taking on a theme and running with it. It has gravity, and heft, and allowed me to steep in the subject matter with you. Great work. Mike Farkas, The WIYOS
Cool clear harmony, narrative driven - beautiful instrumentation Americana UK
4 STARS Jan Bell, solo artist and leader of country trio The Maybelles, is resident in Brooklyn, but originates from Yorkshire, where a number of her recent ancestors worked as coal miners; this concept album, clearly a labour of love, is a tribute to them. It consists of four originals alongside ten covers by the likes of Billy Bragg, Woody Guthrie and others. The most familiar song here, ‘Dirty Old Town’, is performed as a duet with her partner, Will Scott, who will already be familiar to Americana fans from his own records. Despite the many guests, including Truck Stop Honeymoon and Jolie Holland, arrangements are kept to a minimum throughout; this is a folk record where the songs are allowed to stand on their own two feet with a little low-key percussion and a splash of violin, banjo or mandolin to add colour. Jan’s own contributions fit seamlessly alongside the covers and ‘Elsecar Grace’, which tells the story of her grandfather, is one of the most memorable and affecting songs here. Some themed albums struggle under the weight of their concept; this one feels unforced and provides a strong argument in favour of keeping the album format alive. Martin Dowsing R2, Rock n Reel, UK
A seamless album of true beauty. To argue over whether this sort of music is country or folk is to miss the point: these haunting acoustic arrangements may be new, but they call to a time before the distinction made sense, when all the world was folkways, and they evoke the best of that history. Cover Lay Down
Club in London - she was all by herself that night, singing her songs with quiet passion and sensitivity - the music just seemed to come out of every cell of her body - I don't often see artists who affect me like that, especially the very first time. Now here we are ten years later and I remember that night like it was yesterday. I have not been lucky enough to see Jan again
but every time I see a new album I grab it and I've never been disappointed. They are all sitting
here right beside me and I play them often. The newest one "Dream of the Miner's Child", released
a few months ago, is another passionate, sensitive creation. Jan marries her Yorkshire upbringing and
ancestry (the album is dedicated to her Grandad who worked in the mines for 45 years) with her experience and travel in Appalachia. It's been dubbed "Anglo-Americana". Good name. Great album.
I'm playing a few of the songs this week, along with some of the guest artists who contributed to the album. But believe me, I'll be playing lots more in the weeks to come. Gail Comfort CMR Nashville UK
'Dream of the Miner's Child' is dedicated to my Grandad. The album has many special guests, including my band The Maybelles. I'm often asked 'What's an English girl doing in New York City playing country music?' I've set out to answer that question and tie together my Yorkshire roots, with the folk music and arts community I'm part of in America for the last twenty years. There are songs by emerging and established American and British songwriters; a couple of traditional folk songs; and a number of my own.
Music as a way of telling stories and bringing people together made a life long impact on me during the year long miners strike of 1984. I'd see big strapping men singing on the picket lines, even on a bitter cold morning. Billy Bragg played a rowdy room at a fundraiser, and when he launched into 'Between the Wars' (which I cover on the album), he brought us all around in one unified understanding. Grandad went down the mine as a teenager, and had worked there forty five years at the time of the strike. There are songs about him and village life on the album.
There are many special guests on this recording: Melissa Carper (co-founder of The Maybelles) and her Austin,Texas band The Carper Family. Folks I've been playing with a few years now: Jolie Holland, Samantha Parton (of The Be Good Tanyas), Rima Fand (Luminescent Orchestrii), Will Scott, Megan Palmer,, Philippa Thompson and Hilary Hawke. Friends from the road include Truckstop Honeymoon, Salty Pink, Casey Neill, and fellow English woman Juliet Russell, who leads mass choirs, and works wonders on an old Celtic ballad on the album. I'm also joined on a song about a Birmingham coal miner (which could be set in England as easily as Alabama), by one of my heroes, the legendary Alice Gerrard.
As a fan of Loretta Lynn, I was led to the songs of Jean Ritchie who in turn led me to stories about 'Coal Mining Diva' Aunt Molly Jackson, (who I wrote a song about using her words from a letter she sent to Sing Out! folk magazine). When I heard songs by Hazel and Alice I felt right at home in the stories they told.
I'm often drawn to songs that turn out to be written by folks from Kentucky coal miner stock, such as "You'll never leave Harlan Alive" by Darrell Scott, which The Maybelles often play. That song hits home and echoes the life of a Yorkshire family as well. I've learned that throughout Appalachia, folks have ancestors who migrated to America from northern England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Many songs traveled with them, such as the title track which started life in South Wales in 1907. Following an accident where over 100 miner's perished "Don't Go Down in the Mines, Dad" was penned by Welshmen Robert Donnelly and Will Geddes. It was "recomposed" by the blind Alabama Evangelist Rev. Andrew Jenkins, in 1925. Later that year Vernon Dalhart recorded it as 'Dream of the Miner's Child'. Its since been covered by Ralph Stanley, and Doc Watson among others. You can find out more about the history of this song in Archie Green's landmark dissertation Only a Miner.
Following such mining disasters many Welsh miner's - including Grandad Williams family went across the Pennine Mountains to South Yorkshire. The word was that the Fitzwilliam family there, owned and operated the safest pits in the country. Songs from the 'Land of Poet's and Singers' as Wales is known, were now venturing across the Atlantic as well.
Maybe growing up in Yorkshire is what sets Jan Bell apart from the run of local lady folkies. Or maybe its the slide guitars, harmonicas, mandolins and banjos. Dark, old timey spareness......Gorgeous - Chuck Eddy as Senior Editor, VILLAGE VOICE.
Produced and engineered by Jason Mercer at Stoop Sale Recordings. Mixed at Saltlands in DUMBO, NYC. (Several Guest engineers around the country as well). Jason has worked with Ani Difranco, Ron Sexsmith, Rick Moranis, BareNaked Ladies, Tony Scherr, Jesse Harris. He lives and works in Brooklyn, playing music and recording with Matt Keating, Jenifer Jackson, Annie Keating, Mike Ferrio, Jack Grace, Clarence Bucaro, Mary and The Strays, and Ana Egge.