British Folk Music Mixed Genre nature Nature Folk Romanian World

Lizabett Russo – “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” Volume 2

Still unique in her magical space between Scotland and Romania, Russo’s glass vocals strike an irresistable balance of mind and nature that encompasses an idiosyncratic, beautiful reflection of self.

Release Date – 4th November 2022

Lizabett Russo returns with “While I sit and Watch This Tree Volume 2”, a continuation of her multiform presentation of consciousness. 

Previously we wrote about Lizabett Russo (do go and read here) in her previous volume which we described as, “the art of Scott Maismithi with its sharp, bright colours showing the natural landscape like a musician’s heart and soul in bloom.” Volume 2 does reach these joyful optimistic notes, but the lower, darker tracks are more pronounced like the blacker, denser part of a creme caramel with its chains of musical sugars tangled together. It is an album of balance though. Much like Russo’s other works it is not primarily of one mood, but several taking place on stage, and some even jostling for position within the same song; all taking place within Russo’s love of nature.

Romanian-born, and Scotland-settled Russo is joined again by Graeme Stephen on guitar, piano and effects, Udo Dermadt on percussion and Oene van Geel on strings. As before, they more than deliver on building and performing what often sounds like Russo’s inner monologue on the themes of identity. The space is filled with experimentation in percussion, a sense of improvisation in the strings and an attitude of exploration through its musical layers. It would not work without the sound recording as it is, but the mix manages to highlight all the areas and musicians’ work here. 

Russo’s second track “Lessons” is like a sweeping, deadly spray of liquid nitrogen cooling on to scorching metal, her central emotions  pulsing within a metal vessel. The instructive vocals are not unlike an inner voice that reassures the subject, “Even if it broke you, it lifted up your soul”. The voice balms as Russo talks of both a past love and the resenting effort it can be to love. This plays across a background that recognises the positive feelings that are felt in awkward, unfulfilled relationships. This dualism is reflected in the soundscape as a whole with gentle guitar-like strings navigating around electronic strings and samples that are almost shaking themselves away with its own tension in a swelling and tearing of fiercer emotions in this aural mindscape. In the track, “Woman Have you Lost Your Mind?”, we get a more ethereal tale of Russo’s head trying to calm her heart on her decision to move so far from home.. Similarly cerebral, it is overall much warmer in tone, more comforting and ruminating, “people are flowers they do come back in the springtime”. It is almost a song of self-care. Both songs are different parts of the mind talking to itself; Russo examines the world of her inner picture like a mechanic doing a Rorschach test from the collected rivulets of motor oil on her workbench.

Track 5 “What Grows Inside Dark Souls” lays a path of thudding, nearing danger that is dark and ambient. Russos deep instructive vocals are cut with thoughts, words, possibly curses as the electronic samples both tingle and throb. The whole soundscape is how we would imagine Blade Runner’s Vangelis and how the soundtrack would be on the edges of Los Angeles where undisturbed forest clashes with technology. As all the tracks here the elements leap together in this excellent thought experiment. The way it combines invokes questions of the source of evil, and how old superstition and spiritual beliefs can be encouraged, accelerated and formed by technology. Like a technological chorus you hear flashes of nature coming through, it is a powerful, sense-blasting song. 

Whilst the album, as the ones before, occupy a beautiful not-fully known space of jazz, world and folk; Russo as has previously shown, makes a full leap into trad folk for a track or two (The Water is Wide on the last album), and here it is for House Carpenter (Child 243). We have heard a lot of Russo’s work and would never expect her to take off her shoes and walk for an album of traditional British Folk, her power is definitely her explorations in consciousness and inner monologue, unfettered by expected convention. Saying that, her treatment of House Carpenter, for us at least, is nothing short of stellar. Russo’s vocal range lowers to better fit, but the jewel of her personal experience and learning can be clearly seen in how this song is tackled. Beautifully melodic, vocally interesting and reassuringly atmospheric, Russo’s voice along with backing harmonies bring the sense of tragedy that is needed. It all fits as well in an album that contains the questioning decisions that a person makes, much like the subject of the song about leaving her child.

“Hora Unirii” is an expression of Russo’s deeper roots. The 1856 poem by Vasile Alecsandri (with music being composed by Alexandru Flechtenmacher) is especially sung as and unofficial anthem of Romania. Much like Televiziunea Română, who used it to sign off during their network during 1985 to 1989, Russo likewise signs off on her new album. Originally sung, as you would expect, in that rousing Masculine open-heart manner, Russo instead emphasises the fragile, quietness of love for her birth Country, She does this with a simple, emotive performance over the gentle sways of a music box. It seems to show a love which continues as the key is wound, a beautiful, personal kind that is deep in the heart and must continue to be tended to throughout life.

“While I sit and Watch This Tree Volume 2” is an enthralling, cerebral work that explores Russo’s journey in a semi-autobiographical way. The songs parade across genres, unified by an inner questioning that hints of regret be it for some major decision previously made (as in House Carpenter), a call to her homeland (Hora Unirii), or over some kind of relationship (Lessons). It might be just that Russo is reflecting on her life in a bare, honest fashion and laid it down carefully on this album. With the clever, original work we got, this is no bad thing.

If you would like to purchase the new album, the best place is from the artist direct here.

Lizabett Russo is also on tour (at time of writing), check out her site to see her live! (here).

Album/EP Reviews Folk Music Gentle Nature Folk Political Vitality World

Lizabett Russo- “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” (album review)

Russo’s album is a brighter, more focused affair that lets the positive rays of growth bring more optimism to her delightfully individual music.

To Be Released: Late November 2020

Gathering her ideas from the characterful stream of her mind and hewing a sound from the knotty avant-garde folk tree, Lizabett Russo continues a work very much her own with more integration of her core ideas around nature, personal anxiety and politics. With “While I Sit and Watch This Tree” it also feels that Russo is letting the background sing as much as her own interesting, searching voice.

“While I Sit and Watch This Tree” sees Russo (classical guitar, charango) joined by the musicianship of Graeme Stephen (electric guitar, loops/effects, piano), Oene van Geel (cello, viola, percussion), Udo Dermadt (various percussion, clay pot). Interestingly, the album itself is being released by not-for-proft charity, “Last Night from Glasgow” which strives to provide artists, “fair remuneration for their work” and is funded by patrons. They have some enticing options for supporters and if this piques the reader’s interest, is well worth a look at, (

Lizabett Russo is a Romanian-born (now Scotland-settled) artist with wide-ranging vocals that can swing around a point like a pencil in a metal compass, pleasantly drawing patterns only she can see. It has always seemed to us that Russo’s signature style could be how she musically captures the “meeting of her thoughts” within a song. The joy in this is when she begins with one idea there is often no certainty about where this will end up in terms of style, beat and genre. When these shifts happen her ideas clash in a great auditory drama and the song becomes something else altogether; jazz moves to folk, to expansive poetry and far beyond. Therefore, it is rare that Russo’s music is a steady-paced jog in the countryside, it is more akin to orienteering upon a craggy rock face with various dashing and walking speeds, the wonder of finding the puzzle, and wading through water while the sun bakes your muddy jersey.

“While I Sit and Watch This Tree” continues this stylistic motif in parts (and Russo’s great voice endures) but this time there feels more like a greater continuity to the tracks and it’s cognitive, political and natural folk music is layered around a vision which is more optimistic, and probably less mystifying than her previous works. What do we feel about the songs?

“Two Hands Together” is the musical fusion of a union rally call stretched across the drums of a shamanistic greeting. The song asks for the listener to  “get up and fight, get up and see what is there to see beyond the horizon” as it calls the “brother” and “sister” to action. The hands clap and the spirit of rebellion splashes up onto the jungle raft as it moves along. It is a song about the destruction of the rainforest in Ecuadar,and in character it feels much like the protest is coming from “within”the trees and the cultures of the area. Atmospheric and spiritual, it appeals to the senses with it’s peaceful yet pleading message.  

The track “I Was Young When I Left Home”, is as nostalgic and delicately skipping a track as you might find from the young artist. It’s a moody assortment of piano and jingly percussion which begins like the building bustle of an Alpaca textile stall in the morning. As it starts the track’s colours glow and Russo’s ideas firmly greet each other in a busy kind of joy. By the second half, it is a track that has ascended like red vapour from a heavenly candle, flickering for a moment in the mind. It seems to play like a contrast between her life now and from her past. Russo paints not an unhappy picture of her youth, but with the contrasting styles of the track you wonder if she considers her current creative life akin to spiritual enlightenment, as she has noted previously that music is not considered a profession in Romania and more a “hobby”. Whatever it’s intention, the song presents two distinct and interesting sides of Russo’s character.

“Depending” is a song like an anagogic spray of glitter and lights crackling in the heavy, damp air. It starts brimming with Russo’s echoing vocals portraying a contented inner voice with some solid, earthy strings backing this up. Much like Heraclitis’ famous wisdom, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Russo explores virtue and time within one of her more simply structured songs on the disc. With a clear message and voice that sounds like it hovers over swarms of heady springtime bees. It is a nice entry among many.

Photograph by: Vicki Rose Evans.

Russo’s cover (her only one here) of “The Water is Wide” is also a welcome addition. Russo takes on a folkier track than usual and the results are a song of easy listening that sings lightly of transformation and joy. Voice and lyrics are still front and centre, but unlike other versions (such as Karla Bonoff’s) it has both a stronger world feel, and both instrumentation (particularly the charango) and composition are more wedded to the elements of Nu-Folk. Russo gives us two co-existing ideas; one is her future character singing with a care-free confidence of a dilettante as she looks back at her migration. The second is the content of the song which hints at past Russo’s worries about impending travel and starting a new life. It is a cheerful affair though and a worthwhile cover.

So with the latest offering from Lizabett Russo we get a sunny, idea-filled exploration of Russo’s own beliefs and history. Her music reminds of the art of Scott Maismithi with it’s sharp, bright colours showing the natural landscape like a musician’s heart and soul in bloom. Moreso, it shows that Russo has much more to say about her life as well as ways to say it.

As the fourth album of Russo’s catalogue, it is possibly the most joyfully introspective but also a perfect starting place for those new to her works so we recommend that you check it out.

For details of purchasing her album, have a look at Lizabett’s website here,

Here is a preview of the album on Youtube:

Russo’s live stream of her album launch is taking place on YouTube on 27th November, check it out here

Festival World

Underneath the Stars 2018: Barnsley’s Further Foray into Folk

Underneath the Stars is a festival of celebration of Yorkshire’s music scene and the grand tradition of Kate Rusby, but more importantly it is an olive branch, nay, an olive tree that gives a platform to several well-known and upcoming groups wherever they hail from. A generous enterprise indeed.

Our festival visits continue and this time we cast our eye on “Underneath the Stars 2018”, one of the jewels of Barnsley’s music scene calendar. But does it glimmer in the light?

Now in it’s fifth year the festival is a a relaxed bustle of international musicians across genres, extensive and friendly children’s entertainment, excellent craft and food stalls and of course a series of musical workshops. It is true, many festivals have childrens entertainment but there is probably more than it’s fair share here with no end of diablos, stilts, optical illusion constructions and storytelling to keep the little ones entertained.

None of the entertainment seems like an afterthought either. Through the weekend we hear the countdown of entertainers about to release a giant Newton’s Cradle, or see the crypt-keeper doing his rounds ushering families for the night-time spooky tales. There is more all-round entertainment for families then I’ve ever seen at a folk festival anywhere, credit is definitely due for the Rusbys and their commitment to trying to make it a festival for everyone. Beer is free flowing, and there are more than enough places to indulge in food if you don’t bring your own, our favourite being the “Massala Chips” that are on offer from a vendor here. Whilst being fairly large in size, the whole even is quite self-contained with festival venues being near the top, the workshop tent at the bottom and everything else in between.

Colourful and picturesque, we cannot really ask for better surroundings.

That is all well and good, but what of the music? Well there is so much, it is hard to know where to start. Let us tell you about a few of our favourites. Starting with Maya Youseff.

Maya Youseff

Arriving on the third day like a hungry tiger waiting to pounce, Maya Youseff is here, but she is not alone. There is her band, but also an unexpected, ethereal sound drawn straight from her homeland that brings a positive World vibe which widens the scope and sound of the whole festival. Youseff is from Syria and considered the “queen of the quanun”, her 78 string zipher whose playing is usually dictated to be a man’s occupation. Breaking the mould in performance and sound, Youseff performs from an ethical standpoint, the desire for peace in Syria. She achieves this through a kind of waterfall of sonic beauty. Having played Womad the year before she brings her unique talents to South Yorkshire.

There is a lot from her set to enjoy. Of course she plays the number that started her leap into music with her most famous song “Syrian Dreams” a reflective tune that builds to a plead for action and an almost broken dismayed finale. It is something special but there is more. Her song “Hi Jazz” is an audio experiment into different chords and melody that shows the quanun’s versatility in playing and sustaining a tune that takes less influence and pointers from the Middle East with great success. Another favourite if ours is “Breakthrough” with a kind of sound that maps and shows inspiration and the barrage of ideas as they converge and deepen. It is all impressive.

Her songs of peace culminate in the “7 Gates of Damascus” a series of interludes that together formed a soundscape of these Damascus portals. There are shades of personality within each section be it the steadfast Kisan Gate, the much more watery Gate of St Thomas and also the “Gate of Peace” with several short sharp strokes like gleaming jewels in the sand.

A delightful set and a wonderful addition to Underneath the Stars. See her website here

Joanne Harris and the Storytime Band

Showing it’s commitment to star power and interesting celebrity, Underneath the Stars invite the acclaimed author Joanne Harris along to the weekend, and lucky for us she accepts. Widely famous for her work “Chocolat” she has written and conceived of several other multi-genre novels, Twitter-writing projects, and now she has turned her expert hand to music.

Early in the day, Joanne Harris’s band get the senses going for what comes next. Drawing the content of her songs and narrative from her books, we hear about bees, rivers of dreams, a clockmaker who remakes his wife piece by piece, and a shapeshifting woman of nature. Her stories are primal and familiar but much like the vinyl loaded on to a player in a hurry, they are all stories with an interesting spin. As Harris explains, they all wanted to “escape the page”

The set can easily be described as myth with a cloak of “prog rock” which is little surprise given the bands personal friendship and history together. Harris herself calls it “Jackanory with drums.” We can’t refute her logic, there are a great selection of stories she draws on here and it is quite jaunty and forlorn in the way only flute led forest tunes can be. Whilst this is the case the overarching tone and character probably can be more likened in it’s musicality to the War of the Worlds. You aren’t waiting for the interrogative violin slap of that signature tune, but maybe one or two martians made it through the British military’s defensive line this time. This is no bad thing rather it is an interesting choice.

Inventive and powerful, the Storytime Band are one to check out if they are in your area. Check out Joanne Harris’ website for more information

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

All dressed smartly in a row, it is possible that many audience members are uncertain of what is to come (my partner is incredibly sceptical). The Ukes are pretty much exactly what they say they are after all, an orchestra of ukuleles but this factor alone is not what makes them brilliant (as unique as it is). It is rather they they cover songs that are instantly recognisable with the gusto and flamboyance of a Spanish Bullfighter making bread to tune. The comedy starts with them describing the vast array of tuned ukuleles in their repertoire (hint: they are mostly tenor) and it just continues to climb from there.

This knowledge doesn’t really prepare for the onslaught of comedy and musicianship that is to come your way. These small instruments and their performers become epic in size as the evening ticks over and emotions run high. Some of our favourites include their rendition of “Life on Mars”, “Born to be Wild”, and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)”. Sprightly in sound like a drove of hares, the Ukes commanded the field, tent and all surrounding area as they remind you of great songwriting in the ukulele style.

We had seen snippets online of their performances, after all, they have played the highest echelons of arenas such as Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, but even the grandiosity of the sound and image on screen does not come close to the atmosphere of the live performance. Consummate and legendary they are an exceptional act for this Barnsley festival. Their website is here

Midnight Skyracer

As fiery as the efflorescent arcs of heated coals into a train engine, Midnight Skyracer are a fine set of plans for a bluegrass night as any you can imagine. At “Underneath the Stars” they were part of the afternoon entertainment.. and entertained we were. Like an unstoppable but non-menacing juggernaut (maybe a mystery red setter running at you rather than an Alsatian), Midnight Skyracer were on point with delightfully sun-bleached lyrics, tremendous  instrument skills and a chamber of sound that confidently shakes the most obscure mountain man’s hut. Their songs ranged from quintessential Blues romps (Working Girl Blues), to Bluegrass-RiotGrrrl song “So Long, Goodbye, We’re Through” with dizzying banjo plucks and a refreshing story of how a song transformed from being a potato to a cow who is rode like a horse (Virginia Rose).

Their set is basically a testament to how much a group can rock. Throughout you see the different shades of Bluegrass, and each artist’s personality clearly shines through. In other words.. we highly recommend. See their website here

Kate Rusby & Sally Smith

Yes the integral Kate Rusby is performing during the festival, and she is fantastic. There is also a surprise appearance by Jason Manford and together they truly bring the house down with “Falling Softly”, a song from Manford’s album and a track from the musical “Once” (a love story set in Dublin). There was also an opportunity to hear fan favourites “Big Brave Bill” (Barnsley’s superhero of choice) and the eponymous beautiful and completative “Underneath the Stars” amongst many others from Kate’s extensive discography. A personal and consummate performer you can’t help but smile at Kate’s energy, and this is why we were especially interested in the “cosy chat” portion of the weekend where Kate Rusby & Sally Smith came back (by popular demand) to talk about their friendship and looking fondly back on early experiences with music.

It is all very real when Kate plays a tape of an especially sad song about kissing the lips of a dead soldier (that’s how we remembered it anyway) as part of a school project. The slot moves on around her (at the time) questionable fashion (a pair of massive trousers they both stand in being something else indeed), it is all very relaxed and cool and welcoming. At a few points Kate is joined by the band and husband Damien O’Kane as they thrash out some songs. At these junctures, friend Sally entertains massively here with her tin whistle interjections and well-meaningness. Light-hearted and cheeky it’s a warming mirror to the spirit of the festival and a good showcase of what it is all about.

And Many Others..

We could go on all day (we won’t we promise), so let us quickly run through some of the others that caught our attention. There is of course the prominent, significant and mind-dwelling set of Lau alongside their Moog instrument “Morag”, a group so inventive and cerebral they seem to pierce the veil of musicality itself. Also the enigmatic yet  grounded Martha Tilston, quiet and contained “Pitou” and Austarians “L-R” who in their grand percussion seemed to attract the biggest and most dedicated following for a newer artist that we saw over the weekend.

There is also Andy Kershaw’s sage and funny advice from the world of showbiz (with some Alan Bennett impressions thrown in), Estebel’s excellent European Folk wanderings, Jack Rutter’s faithful folk leanings, and one of our favourites “Melrose Quartet” shaking up the festival with their exceedingly polished, reaching set around the successful “Dominion” album. Credit should also be given for Jack Harris a long time supporter of the festival, compere and performing with an honest, gritty and talented acoustic set.

All-in-all a success. A very family-friendly event, a safe site, and excellent music taste by the Rusbys here. If festivals were animals, then “Underneath the Stars” would be an emperor penguin standing tall and confident, yet humble in it’s achievements and offer.

Check out the bands, keep peeled for next year’s festival and get yourself tickets. “Underneath the Stars” got the mix of new and established artists just right with so many interesting expressions and beautiful means of weaving a song. Go to the website here to keep an eye open

If this is not enough, check out some of our sample videos from the festival below.

NOTE: I do not copyright or ownership of given performances and music below, they belong with the respective owners. I do not claim income from said material. Any artists wishing for use and copies of the source files for their own promotion and use, please email me at and I can send the original recording for your own publicity and artistic endeavours.