HARROW FAIR – Call To Arms (Roaring Girl RGO14)

Call To ArmsComprising Miranda Mulholland, violinist with Great Lake Swimmers, and Andrew Penner, Harrow Fair are a Canadian duo who first began working together as part of a Toronto theatre company and who take their name from an Ontario county fair. They both sing, while she plays violin and percussion and he does everything else, everything on Call To Arms including drums, guitar, banjo and assorted keyboards. They describe their music as an amalgam of early country, rock n roll and garage rock, opening number ‘Hangnail’ amply demonstrating their penchant for an urgent, echoey gothic stomp with pounding percussion and scraping fiddle. By contrast, ‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ is all a spare, percussive brooding mountain music adaptation of the old Hank Williams number while ‘I Will Be Your Man’ is a scurrying call and response thumping rusty blues with shaker, bass drum and rimshot percussion, the title refrain somehow sounding more like a threat than a declaration of love.

The melodically simple ‘Held Tight’ is a little different in that, Penner singing lead, it adopts a Celtic folk hue, gradually swelling towards the close, but then it’s back to grungey business with Penner growling and Mulholland getting sassy for the kick drum propelled title track boogie with pulsing fiddle and throbbing bass. At which point they decide to throw in a field recording titled ‘Harrow Fair Pig Auction’ which is exactly that, 82 seconds of two auctioneers selling some porkies while the pair provide distorted backing. It may have seemed like a good idea after a few drinks, but it’s unlikely anyone’s ever going to play it twice, at least not on purpose.

Getting back on track, ‘How Cold’ creeps up quietly and slowly, eventually announcing itself as a traditional sounding folk number with Mulholland on near acapella hymnal lead before the atmospheric, resonant backing builds behind her. It’s a transfixing number, headily reminiscent in sound and tone of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To A Siren’.

They keep things mournful for the brooding bass and violin led dark folk ‘Emmaline’ (originally featured on her 2014 solo album), a brief fiddle and synth hissing instrumental, ‘The Hunt’, bridging the path to the prog-rock blues riffery of ‘Bite The Way’ with Penner’s distorted mixed back vocals, a number you could imagine being on Jack White’s mix tape. After this, it ends on a more tranquil note with ‘Been There Ways’, the pair sharing vocals while Mulholland provides a Celtic fiddle vibe to an overall lysergic folk ambience that may well have a touch of the Velvets to its DNA.

The actual Harrow Fair is a big thing in Essex County, the titular duo are likely to attract visitors from a far wider radius.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.harrowfair.ca

‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ – live: