Reviews of Steadfast

Review from Fatea-Records (UK online magazine)

Margaret Walters
Album: Steadfast
Label: Lanternlight Sound
Tracks: 15

If ever there were a singer for whom the word “steadfast” might seem tailor-made, then it’s Margaret. And here, on her latest CD, that can be taken in all senses of the word: First, in the consistency and forthright quality of Margaret’s tone and her staunch vocal control. Second in the sheer tenacity of the chosen songs, which have been clinging to Margaret over a long period of time. Third, in the sort-of-thematic thread which emerges from the actual choice of songs, that of loyalty – whether to a loved one, a cause, a class or a memory for example. Taking the first meaning first: Margaret is an Australian singer whose characterful, full-toned and expressive voice is well capable of holding attention throughout the span of a whole CD (in this case 47 minutes), without feeling the need for any instrumental accompaniment or embellishment. Her sole concession in that regard is to recruit her friend Christina Mimmocchi to provide some lovely vocal harmonies on six of the fifteen songs.

But her own special involvement in her chosen material, along with the tremendous variety in style and subject of the individual songs, enables the listener to be similarly involved, to the extent that he/she rarely (if at all) notices the lack of accompaniment. This impact is all the more striking when, as here, a large proportion of the songs are likely to be unfamiliar to UK audiences. Most well-known, without a doubt, are Wild Goose Shanty – which Margaret often sings with all-male crew The Roaring Forties – and The Devil’s Nine Questions, an American variant of one of the most popular Child Ballads. I’ve always loved Bernie Parry’s song The Goblin’s Riddle, and Margaret’s rendition of this magical tale is quite spellbinding. Another welcome re-discovery here is Anne Lister’s Rosemarie, which Margaret learned from Sarah Morgan and here turns into an album highlight. Margaret augments her repertoire of songs about the steel industry with the powerful but little-known Roger Watson opus Back To The Kitchen Again, while her espousal of important causes comes to the fore on Judy Small’s adaptation of the dark Peggy Seeger vision Four-Minute Warning, Paul Spencer’s environmental commentary Machines Are Closing In, and Frankie Armstrong’s inspirational, defiant Shall There Be Womanly Times. And of course Margaret gives welcome exposure to a number of Australia-centred songs, best of which is undoubtedly The Hungry Mile, a setting of radical 30s poet Ernest Anthony’s Depression tale.

Margaret’s well regarded for her keen ability to vary her expressive approach with the demands of the song, and Steadfast provides a very convincing demonstration indeed of this gift. Strongly recommended.

David Kidman

Review from Cornstalk Gazette (NSW) #468, Dec 2014

STEADFAST Margaret Walters

Margaret Walters has been an important stalwart of the folk scene for as long as I can remember. Her contribution to folk music in Australia has been immeasurable, and this should be celebrated and acknowledged at every turn. Her latest CD, Steadfast, is appropriately named, for she has been true to her calling ever since she began singing more than 30 years ago..

Her efforts have been on two main levels: Her warm and unique voice, with its special emphasis on a cappella singing and her own style with its decorations and strong emotional expression, has been heard just about anywhere there is folk music happening in these parts. She has also lent her voice to others, such as her important collaborations with songwriter John Warner and The Roaring Forties.

In addition, she has been a big promoter of folk music in general. This has been through concerts, festivals and events in which she has participated or has herself instigated, through information-sharing, and through the many informal singing sessions she has tirelessly organized – one way to keep the folk music she so loves alive for everyone. She has taken her singing to England on several occasions, where she has been welcomed, sharing many of our Australian songs with her audiences as well as bringing back to us songs she has heard during her travels.

It is against this backdrop that Steadfast has such a special meaning and role. It is Margaret Walters at her best, a faithful showcase of her special voice and style, as well as the range of songs she has collected and sung over the years.

I have often wondered, “Where does she get all these songs?” Many in this CD are quite new to me. They are all presented in her own way, and most feature a traditional sound, even if not actually traditional. Each one is appealing in its own right, and there are little stories and twists to keep our interest. Some of the more serious songs, delivered with emotion and fervour, are towards the end. They creep up on the listener to demand closer attention and are a testament to the social and environmental concerns that permeate much of Margaret’s singing.

No doubt there are still people around who are surprised to find that unaccompanied singing can be interesting even without embellishment from instruments, but Margaret has already shown that it can be successful and she takes it further with Steadfast. Anyone, whatever his or her musical preference, can enjoy this style of singing as she presents it here — it is definitely not a niche album. Surprisingly, it is even great to have playing in the background – something I normally don’t recommend! But I find it relaxing to put the CD on during the day and just let the vocal sounds and the melodies wash over me.

An attentive listen, of course, is in order and there is a rich variety of themes, sentiments and fine music to reward the discerning listener.

Lovely harmonies from Christina Mimmocchi add a new dimension to several of the songs. One of my favourites is a charming ballad by Anne Lister entitled Rosemarie, based on a traditional Flemish song and beautifully adapted. The harmonies add poignancy and sweetness, and I just kept on listening (one of the longer songs) to find out what happened to the heroine – like many of the songs Margaret has chosen, strong womanhood wins out!

If you know Margaret Walters you will be more than satisfied with her latest offering. And if you are not familiar with her work this will be a fine introduction.

Mary-Jane Field

Review from Living Tradition (UK)

Review published in Living Tradition (UK) (circa October 2014)

MARGARET WALTERS Steadfast Private Label

By John Waltham

It’s always been worth catching a few songs from Margaret Walters whenever she’s been on a visit here from her native Australia, but I’ve never heard a whole set from her, so I was interested to listen to this CD – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Margaret has a rich and expressive voice, vibrant and characterful, and there’s no mistaking where she’s from. She also has a way of getting inside a song that takes you along with her and engages your interest from the first line of virtually every song she sings. She has a sympathy with her material that shows in the way that her inflection varies to suit the song, be it a (relatively) light-hearted number or the tragedy of a transportation song. And something else that I always feel is important – the enunciation is always crystal clear; there’s never any doubt about the story getting across!

The songs themselves demonstrate the singer’s espousal of a range of causes and interests as well as a love of traditional songs – four of the 15 songs are traditional. The others have been selected from Margaret’s long-term repertoire and come from sources as varied as Thomas Hardy, Bob Davenport and Peggy Seeger, so there’s no lack of variety.

For me, the highpoints were the beautiful Anne Lister song, Rosemarie and The Hungry Mile, a song about hard times around Sydney. I also enjoyed the Wild Goose Shanty; like many others (I suspect), I tend to view shanties as a male preserve, but Margaret made that one her own. Some of the tracks feature tasteful and subtle accompaniment from Christina Mimmocchi; other than that, there’s no musical accompaniment and she doesn’t need it.

There was one track I didn’t enjoy as much, but that had more to do with me not sharing the beliefs of the singer than with the quality of the performance. On the technical front, the pauses between tracks were mostly briefer than I would have liked – I think a slight pause is good; it allows one to adjust before the next track. But that’s a personal viewpoint, and I did enjoy this CD. It’s got a lot on it to make you think and it left me with a warm feeling.

Review from Trad and Now

Review published in Trad and Now, July 2014 vol.13, no.7, p. 63.Steadfast by Margaret Walters (see

By Sue Robinson

Margaret Walters isn’t the kind of singer to make you want to get up and dance. She doesn’t get your blood pounding, though you will find yourself humming along. She doesn’t dazzle you with flights of instrumental wizardry – there aren’t any instruments. You won’t hear any fancy recording techniques either, just a faithful representation of her rich contralto, with occasional harmonies from Christina Mimmocchi. This is not a party CD. But sit down comfortably, with some time and a hot drink and you will find it immensely rewarding.

Margaret calls the album “Steadfast” because she says it best describes the theme running through the 15 songs featured here. Several of the songs are traditional and you will find small groupings of sub-themes. Gang by Me and Rosemarie, for example, both deal with the woman done wrong, and her tit-for-tat revenge. The Devil’s Nine Questions and The Goblin’s Riddle are both riddle songs (You know the format – you are stopped by a being who gives you a riddle to answer before you can pass.) Nice to see the format in song again after its almost complete adoption by adventurer-archaeologist movies and fantasy films. Mannum and the Drum, and Back to the Kitchen Again, both deal with the woman’s role in war, keeping things going at home, though one protagonist would rather keep her wartime job and the others just want their beloved menfolk home safe. In all three cases, Margaret has used harmonies to provide variety.

This CD is full of great stories with winners, losers, jokers, lovers, wise people and fools, and Margaret’s spare but compelling vocals encourage the tales to unfold with all their pathos, humour and drama intact. The Colonial Widow, for example, has its narrator marrying a man who turns out to be a drunken bully – but it has a happy ending – he dies. The Four Minute Warning paints a chilling picture of what would happen if a nuclear bomb hit Sydney – listen out for your suburb and see how you would fare. The Gypsy Poacher is a sad tale of how an act of kindness is rewarded with arrest and transportation. There are songs celebrating the bush and songs grieving for lost wilderness.

The last song on the album celebrates the nurturing nature of the female gender and asks: “Shall there be womanly times, or shall we die?” The answer is optimistic. A CD well worth a listen.

Responses to STEADFAST

From Judy Small, folk-singer, Victoria

Hello Marg

I went to my post box yesterday after getting back from 5 weeks away and found your wonderful CD. I’ve just finished listening to it beginning to end and I just love it! Your voice is as strong as true as ever and the selection of songs is wonderful. I always intended to record an album of trad songs but never got around to it somehow – but this is pretty much the kind of thing I had in mind – and the recording quality is lovely too.

Thanks so much for sending it to me – I really appreciate it. I’ve already installed it on my iTunes collection so I can carry the music with me and I look forward to hearing it many more times.

Cheers, Judy

From Richard Rachals, folk-singing friend from Nova Scotia

Hi Marg,

What a beautiful album!!  Your CD arrived a few days ago, and I just had a chance yesterday to sit down and listen to it. That is absolutely beautiful work, Marg! Your voice is strong and clear and the harmonies beautiful. And whoever recorded that should get a medal. So few recording engineers understand the human voice any more, or have any appreciation for it, or know how to mic it and capture it. Maybe that’s not the case in Australia, but in N. Amurika it sure is.

I think The Colonial Widow is my favourite. How many times has that saga of the young, unsuspecting bride played out. And the wistful (except for the last verse) Back To The Kitchen Again. It must have been damn hard for all those women who finally tasted some independence and pride in a “man’s” work, to leave all that and become kitchen appliances again. (Was it Robyn Davidson who said, “In Australia a woman is considered to be something of a cross between a sheep and a kitchen appliance”?) For some, especially in a U.S. untouched by war and privation, it wasn’t so bad. I recall finding my mother’s wartime ID card listing her occupation as “Housewife.” And I think she was happy in that role. But for others it must have been misery returning to the kitchen. How far we have come in just our lifetimes, but how far there is yet to go.

Jasus, Four Minute Warning scared the hell out of me. Never heard that before. Don’t think I want to again! During the Raygun era, with that imbecile’s finger hovering over The Button, I found it hard to even think about a future. There still has to be a sort of cognitive dissonance at play these days to allow one to block out the long-term import of much of what is going on.

Anyhow, it is a rare pleasure to be able to effuse about an album, Marg. I want to send it right off to Gordon Bok, so could I buy three more copies? I’ll send you Canadian cash which will force you to come visit some day. Thanks for reminding people what a powerful and important instrument the human voice can be.

Love and cheers, RR


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