Although Blabber’Smoke tends to wallow in the sounds of Stetson wearing honky tonkers, fiddling mountain dervishes or bruised and angry troubadours we pride ourselves in having an eclectic ear. Over the past few months several albums of the folk variety have tumbled in and we thought it was time to give them an airing.
First up is Bard whose album The Springtime Fool has been gathering plaudits and airplay since their successful appearance at Celtic Connections. A five piece band whose traditional sounding songs are coloured heavily by an almost klezmer sounding clarinet they weave songs that draw from the country and the city with a jaunty spring in their step. Born In London Town is an almost skiffle like number while the opener Violets is reminiscent of Pentangle at times. An encouraging debut.
Encouraging as it is to hear a young band like Bard take up the baton of modern folk if we go back ten years or so there was a blossoming of folk sounds influenced by world music. Much of this was delivered by the generation below sixties masters such as Martin Carthy and indeed Carthy and his daughter Eliza are very much present in The Imagined Village’s third release, Bending The Dark. A conglomeration led by Simon Emmerson The Imagined Village blend world tunes, dub, Afrobeat and traditional folk into a beguiling stew. Although the recording of this album was beset with problems including the departure of Chris Woods they’ve delivered a fine set of songs and tunes that derive from the traditional and embroider them with layers of exotica. Percussion, sitar, studio trickery all play a part here but the lyrics cleave to traditional subjects while the band are a virtual commonwealth of sounds. Brave and adventurous it is and with the voices of Eliza Carthy and Jackie Oates grounding it the album is well worth hearing. A highlight is Get Kalsi which imagines the Get Carter theme tune as if it was actually on the soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire.
While the Carthy family has engendered numerous albums and various groupings the Lakeman’s appear to be catching up on them. Best known is Seth Lakeman, a past Mercury prize nominee whose latest album, Tales From The Barrel House, is a truly solo effort with him playing all of the instruments. The songs pay tribute to the rural professions that have been plied over the ages but are in danger now of dying off. Recorded in a barrel house (or cooperage) his fiddle scrapings and clattering percussion can threw up images of the blacksmith hammering at the anvil or the claustrophobic atmosphere endured by copper miners. The fine Salt From Our Veins is an impressionistic portrait of the travails of fishermen while Brother of Penryn is a rousing stomp that forsakes the artisan tributes for a good old fashioned folk narrative with murder and mayhem on its mind. The Blacksmith’s Prayer however stands out with some fine lyrics and the best use of an anvil in a song we’ve heard for some time.
Seth’s brother, Sean, steps into the limelight along with his wife Kathryn Roberts on Hidden People. The pair have played together since their days in Equation, a band that included Kate Rusby along with three Lakemen brothers. Sean has kept busy over the years in bother Seth’s band and honing his production skills on numerous albums, skills that allow this album to shine sonically. While Roberts handles the vocals throughout the album she’s joined at times by Caroline Herring, Jim Moray and Dave Burland while Seth and Sam Lakeman both add their tuppenceworth along with Sam’s wife Cara Dillon. It’s a family affair indeed.
The result is an album sounds as modern as tomorrow while still celebrating tradition. There are tales of vengeance, fairies and mystical creatures. . The opening song, Hundra (in Scandinavian folklore “hidden people”) is composed almost entirely of Roberts’ voice multi tracked with some assistance from Swedish band Baskery’s Greta Bondesson. While several of the songs sound traditional including Hang the Rowan, Lusty Smith and the tremendous The White Hind the outstanding pieces have a broader base. Standing At My Window almost has a Bo Diddley beat while Oxford, N.Y. allows Lakeman’s guitar to shine coming on like Richard Thompson in fiery form. The central piece is The Ballad Of Andy Jacobs. Stripped to the bone with only Roberts’ voice and piano accompaniment it’s a moving and intimate telling of the human consequences of the miners’ strike. Signing off with Jackie’s Song, another bare boned affair only with guitar replacing the piano that recalls Thompson again its fair to say that this album places Roberts and Lakeman well up in the current folk pantheon.