The playlist: folk and world – Van Morrison, Peggy Seeger and Hindi Zahra

Celtic jazz from Van the Man, soulful funk from Morocco and revisiting Pete Seeger via Bruce Springsteen – all this and more in this month’s selection

Van Morrison: Cleaning Windows

Meeting Van Morrison in Belfast to talk about his early days and influences in advance of the Lead Belly tribute show sent me straight back to this song about his early life – which of course includes a Lead Belly reference. This is a fine live version, performed in Scotland, 1988.

The Furrow Collective: I’d Rather Be Tending My Sheep

Emily Portman has released two impressive albums this year. Her intriguing new set of self-composed songs, Coracle, follows on from At Our Next Meeting, the quietly triumphant set of traditional material she recorded with the Furrow Collective. Here she joins Rachel Newton and Alasdair Roberts in providing harmony backing for Lucy Farrell in a song about disavowing riches for the simple life. The video is by another fine singer, Marry Waterson.

Peggy Seeger: First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

One of the classic songs by her husband, the late Ewan MacColl, performed by the lady for whom it was written. The great Peggy Seeger is currently on tour celebrating her 80th birthday, along with her sons Neill and Calum, and (at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London) she included it among the triumphant encores.

Bruce Springsteen & the Seeger Sessions Band: John Henry

Watching Peggy Seeger and family on stage was a reminder of the massive influence of the Seeger clan – even on Bruce Springsteen. He paid tribute to Pete Seeger with his rousing album, and a televised live performance in London in 2006, which included this furious reworking of John Henry.

Steve Ashley: Fire & Wine

Currently on tour promoting his new album This Little Game, the first set he has recorded on which he is backed only by his own guitar, Steve Ashley is a thoughtful and elegant singer-songwriter, whose work has been covered by the likes of Fairport Convention and the Owl Service. Here’s one of his favourites, from Stroll On – Revisited.

Hindi Zahra: Any Story

One of the highlights of the Gnawa festival in Essaouira, on the Moroccan coast last month was the late-night set from the French-Moroccan Hindi Zahra, who now spends much of her time in Marrakech. Her diverse style switches from desert blues to reggae, and soulful funk-edged ballads like this. It’s from her new album Homeland.

Aziz Sahmaoui and University of Gnawa: Alf Hilat

Another late-night favourite at the Essaouira festival was this Moroccan singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who plays oud, n’goni and gimbri, and is influenced by west African styles as well as the hypnotic chanting and percussion of Morocco’s gnawa musicians. This was recorded with his University of Gnawa band.

Bellowhead: Roll The Woodpile Down

Are they really calling it quits after a final farewell concert on May Day next year? Sadly, it seems so, though I have attended so many “final shows” that turned out to be nothing of the sort, that I tend to be suspicious. Bellowhead are the most successful folk band of recent years, especially when playing live, and they recorded some classic and rousing songs. This is one of them.

Jim Casey and Vince Matthews: God Save Kingston Springs

From The Kingston Springs Suite, the recently released “long lost Nashville underground album from 1972”, this is a song written by Casey and Matthews in tribute to a little town in Tennessee. Johnny Cash championed the album, provided his studio and wrote the liner notes, and the set was produced by Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein. A rediscovered country music classic.

Le Trio Joubran: Masar

Samir, Wissam and Adnan Joubran are three Palestinian brothers who transformed the image and potential of the oud with their remarkable, often improvised playing. Their father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all specialists in both playing and making the Arab lute, one of the most popular instruments in the Middle East. But the brothers have shown that a group of three oud players can create unexpected, complex and gloriously atmospheric improvisation.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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