HANNAH JAMES – Jigdoll (Rootbeat RBRCD30)

JigdollAfter a career in groups and duos (she is still in at least two) Hannah James embarked on a solo live show Jigdoll of which this is the recorded version.

The stage show used an innovative looping technique to allow Hannah to multi-track herself and the album is recorded to sound as near live as possible. Hannah sings, plays accordion and step-clogs, which is what she does at every gig she plays but Jigdoll puts the elements together in an original way and there is a narrative flow to the record. There are also some oddities. For example, the opening track, ‘First Lullaby’, consists of wordless vocals with Hannah in both channels and then you realise that you can hear her intakes of breath. That seems like a mistake but those sounds become more and more pronounced and you realise they are part of the music and at that point it begins to feel a little disturbing.

The narrative arc of the first part of the record concerns clogs. It begins with ‘Woodsman’ with words derived from an old broadside and that slides into ‘Coppicing Song’ – OK, I don’t think you make clogs from coppiced timber but you see what’s happening. Next comes ‘Barefoot Waltz’ and another oddity. Many of the “tunes” are in fact voiced rather than played, or “words” are sung over the accordion. The effect is to remove the distinction between song and instrumental and you add to that the fact that the “percussion” is Hannah’s dancing. The story ends with ‘Clog Song’ and ‘Clog Jig’ and the album moves on to tributes to Hannah’s musical friends and her meditations on the subject of refugees.

Hannah wrote and performs all the music on Jigdoll, although traditional sources are tapped for some words and she points out that, in the purest sense, it isn’t folk music. Many people would disagree with that assessment for the music here is the epitome of the folk process of adapting old forms and ideas for modern purposes. It has happened that way for centuries and will continue, I hope, for many centuries to come.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.jigdoll.co.uk

A short excerpt from Jigdoll live at Shrewsbury Festival:

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