ZOE MULFORD – Small Brown Birds (Azalea City ACCD 1701)

Small Brown BirdsOriginally from Philadelphia, singer, songwriter, guitarist and much-praised clawhammer banjo-player Zoe Mulford now lives (sometimes) in Manchester. She is currently on tour with Tom Kitching whose fiddle plays a major role in the sound of this record. Small Brown Birds is Zoe’s fifth album, mostly original songs with two covers.

The opening track, ‘Answer The Knock At The Door’, is deceptively light but hidden within is a rebuke to those governments who turn their backs on refugees. ‘Back Door Key’ paints a picture of domestic contentment concealing a message to a former lover along the lines of “you’re a bastard but I miss you”. Bob Beach’s harmonica emphases the hidden melancholy. The banjo first appears on ‘February Thunder’, a look forward to the expected spring that may be personified in Jenny, a lonely woman who everyone knows but nobody knows. I like the interplay between Ken Pendergast’s bass and Sam McEvoy’s cajon here as the song morphs into the traditional ‘Frosty Morning’..

You really can’t afford to let your attention wander. ‘One Damn Thing’ hints at a series of personal disasters without ever being explicit. The first cover is The Red Clay Ramblers’ fantasy shanty ‘The Queen Of Skye’, which could perhaps use a bit more welly although Tom’s fiddle drives it along nicely enough. That track marks a change of mood. ‘Snow On The Junkyard’ is bleak, ‘Speak True’ regretful and ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ is a meditation on the Charleston church shooting built on Zoe’s piano chords. Joan Baez has recorded it for her new album.

It’s back to the banjo for ‘Blackbird’ which seems to sit well at this point and leads into the traditional sounding instrumental title track featuring fiddle, banjo and Mark Allen’s whistle. ‘Zillionaire’ is a wry but jolly attack on corporate greed and the record comes full circle with the welcoming ‘Won’t You Come On In?’ to put things back in perspective.

I have to confess that Small Brown Birds is my first contact with Zoe Mulford and now, by happy coincidence, I can look forward to hearing her live in a week or so. It could be destiny.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://zoemulford.com/

‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ – live:

Zoe Mulford announces new album

Zoe Mulford

Small Brown Birds is the eagerly awaited new album release from Zoe Mulford, an album that looks for joy in the midst of hard times. The songs touch on wintry themes with compassion, honesty, and sometimes wit, tracing a journey from sadness to hope and from winter to spring. The musical arrangements range from gentle and lush to infectiously danceable.

News just in is that Joan Baez will be covering one of Zoe’s songs, ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’, on her upcoming album and concert tour and spoke about Zoe in an interview with Variety magazine, to quote Joan from the article re the new album “I’ve done something from Antony & The Johnsons, two from Tom Waits – ‘Last Leaf’ and ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ – Josh Ritter, one from an unknown, Zoe Mulford, brilliant. Twelve songs and they’re done.”

The new album showcases Zoe Mulford’s clear voice, sprightly clawhammer banjo, and resonant guitar. An American songwriter now living in the north of England, Zoe charms audiences with story-driven songwriting and an unlabored vocal style sometimes compared to that of Joan Baez. Tracks on the album include her take on the Red Clay Ramblers’ soaring sea shanty, ‘The Queen of Skye’. Zoe’s own ‘February Thunder’ dovetails gracefully with the traditional American tune ‘Frosty Morning’. The banjo also crosses the Atlantic for a solo rendition of Paul McCartney’s acoustic tour de force, ‘Blackbird’ and in the tradition of broadsheet ballads; Zoe pulls stories from current headlines. ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ tells the story of the 2015 AME church shooting in Charleston and President Obama’s eulogy for those slain.

The heart of the project is a new collaboration with English fiddler and mandolinist Tom Kitching. Tom is a high-energy player in the style of Dave Swarbrick. Folk broadcaster Mike Harding describes him as “one of the best English fiddlers ever, he takes English folk music by the scruff of the neck and sends it off laughing and dancing and having a good time.”

The core band on the album also features English percussionist Sam McEvoy and Philadelphia’s Ken Pendergast on upright bass. Guest musicians include Pat Wictor on harmony vocals, Bob Beach on harmonica, and Michael G. Ronstadt on cello.

Small Brown Birds is Zoe’s fifth release. She draws expertly on the traditional music of both Appalachia and the British Isles and while stealing a few pages from the American Songbook to create music that feels both comfortably lived-in and sparklingly fresh. Zoe has had work published in Sing Out! Magazine and has had songs covered by many other artists, including Rhiannon Giddens (with Gaelwynd) and John Roberts & Tony Barrand.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.zoemulford.com

‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ – live: