In a week in which we lost two great stalwarts of the folk scene it’s comforting to hear a young duo making such fine music as this. Hickory Signals are husband and wife duo Adam Ronchetti and Laura Ward from Brighton, assisted by Tom Pryor, who produced Turn To Fray, Scott Smith, Phil Ward, Deborah Stacey and Amy Squirrell.
Following two EPs, this is Hickory Signals’ debut full length recording. It’s an extraordinarily powerful work, sometimes painful, sometimes rather surreal and always absorbing but which, despite its depth, flashes by before you have really got to grips with it. It opens with an original song, ‘Rosemary’, based on the words of poet Rosemary Tonks. Actually most of the material is original but they follow on with the traditional ‘Who Put The Blood’, the familiar tale of fratricide. ‘Rosemary’ is the story of “a grieving widow’s only child” and, even though it’s not made explicit, you know that the interrogator of the murdering son is his mother. With Ward taking all the lead vocals Turn To Fray has a very feminine, not to say feminist, viewpoint.
‘Kana’ is about a Kurdish refugee and it’s a very angry song – “you’ve shown no light” is the concluding line but whether it is addressed to the people who destroyed Kana’s home or those who “welcomed” him to Britain is hard to say. ‘Two Girls’ is the oddly surreal story of a chance meeting on the road; not ‘Outlandish Knight’ but definitely outlandish and quite spooky as Ward’s flute weaves ‘The Cutty Wren’ through the song.
Frankie Armstrong’s ‘Doors To My Mind’ is a song whose time has come again and I’m convinced that I’ve heard someone else singing it recently. Originally recorded by Frankie in 1973, during what might be considered the first wave of feminism, we are every day being reminded that some attitudes haven’t changed much. Laura sings it simply and unaccompanied but it remains a rallying cry. There’s a setting of a verse by James Joyce, a song about Zelda Fitzgerald and the record closes with ‘Through Bushes And Through Briars’. Have you ever thought about the words of this song, particularly the third verse? You should.
Adam’s contributions, apart from his songwriting, include guitars, banjo, drums and shruti and the band’s guests include piano, slide guitar, violin, bass and cello. There’s a huge range of sounds from simple acoustic guitar to an almost orchestral band sound – sometimes within a single song – and that’s a part of what makes Turn To Fray so good.
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‘Two Girls’ – official video: