Originally a duo comprising Staffordshire’s Robert Jackson and North Yorkshire classical cellist Isaac Collier, last year they were joined by North Carolina songwriter and fiddle player Alicia Best, she and Jackson now the mainstays, although she remains based in the States. Following on from the High Time EP, on which Best made her first fully-fledged appearance after being one of the backing musicians on the earlier Home From Home, On A Whim is their debut album, all save for two numbers being self-penned.
Musically, it straddles English folk and Americana influences, Jackson taking lead on the mid-tempo, brass brushed waltzing (and whistling) title track about a kind of indolent restlessness. Jackson still on lead, they cross shores for the friskily scampering bluegrassy banjo number ‘Hold Me Down’ with Best showing off her fiddle frills.
She steps up the microphone for her self-penned traditional sounding ‘Potter’s Field’, Collier’s mournful cello and Jackson’s acoustic guitar underpinning a number about a pauper’s burial, and remains there for equally American folk shaded but slightly the more uptempo strum of ‘Rosa Rosa’. That’s followed by the sole actual traditional number, the the much covered ‘The Prickly Bush’, here with Jackson’s voice upfront and Best harmonising, although this offers a strikingly different arrangement that leans to fingerpicked gypsy jazz and Balkan mazurka influences with Alan Best on accordion and Jackson playing harmonica.
The slow strummed march beat ‘Honey And Fire’ has the feel of early Dylan and the Band, jazzy flugel horn and brushed snare colouring the shared wearied delivery of the frayed relationship song ‘Chairs Instead’ which harks to vintage Laurel Canyon days, while ‘Carolina Song’ is a lovely melancholic rootsy slow waltz that shows Best’s slightly dusty Gillian Welch-like vocals to good advantage.
It’s back to a traditional folk flavoured fiddle blazing stomp for the playful ‘Farmer’s Mistress’, Jackson also on lead for the simple acoustic fingerpicking of ‘High Time’, a slightly faster and slightly lyrically different re-recording from the EP.
They end with Dobro and upright bass on the moodily bluesy ‘Charlotte’, the duo sharing verses on the album’s most electric number, and, backed by strings and a circular acoustic guitar pattern, Best singing the simpler folksy ‘Not Good With Words’. A hugely impressive debut; buy it on a whim, keep it as a treasure.
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‘Hold Me Down’ – live/official video: