BEN WALKER – Echo (Folk Room FRR1902)

EchoBen Walker is known as a guitarist, composer, arranger and producer but he is neither a lyricist nor a singer. For his debut solo album it would have been easy to re-run his first EP by recording a set of instrumentals and, to judge from the examples included here, it would have been very good. But it would not have been the statement that Echo is. Ben has gathered lyrics from a number of sources and recruited musicians and singers to perform with him and the result is stunning from start to finish.

The opening track is a sparkling instrumental, ‘Afon’, and if you didn’t look at the sleeve you’d be expecting more of the same. The piece ends with an almost triumphal chord and everything changes. Next is a song from William Blake’s Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience sung by Thom Ashworth and the tune that Ben has given to ‘The Ecchoing Green’ sounds perfectly traditional. ‘Ha’nacker Mill’, sung by Laura Hockenhull, was written by Hilaire Belloc and comes from Bob Copper’s archives. I’d never heard it before. ‘Rings’ is essentially an instrumental led by Basia Bartz and Anna Jenkins but it starts with a snippet of an archive recording of George ‘Pop’ Maynard. It’s not quite what Chumbawamba did on Readymades but it tips its hat in that direction.

Hazel Askew sings ‘Let Me In At The Door’, in fact a mysterious poem called ‘The Witch’ by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. I can’t help but think that it’s an example of no good deed going unpunished but I’ll leave you to decide for yourselves. The song is enhanced by a moody, unsettling accompaniment which continues via Jo Silverston’s cello into ‘Cross Fell’. ‘On Humber Bank’ comes from a broadside ballad. Sung by Laura Ward, its accompaniment seems to reflect the sound of a heavy engine although that may be anachronistic. Jinnwoo sings another broadside, ‘How Stands The Glass Around’, which has an interesting history beyond the scope of this review and Bella Hardy takes the lead on ‘The Island’ from a poem by Dorothy Wordsworth. I’m sorry but I’m afraid that you must look this one up, too – it’s rather too metaphysical for me to explain. Then we return to Blake in the company of Kitty Macfarlane for ‘Nurses’ Songs’ before Echo closes with a final instrumental, ‘Eostre’ for which Ben is joined by Katherine Price’s oboe and Laura Ward’s flute.

The recording is immaculate, as you expect, with Ben mixing field recordings with his music to produce haunting, atmospheric tracks. There is more to Echo than that, though. The songs and poetry are deeply thought-provoking and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a good deal of time reading about them.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Rings’ – official video: