JENNIFER BELL AND WILSON WALKER – …And So To Bedlam (own label JBWW01)

And So To BedlamIt isn’t often that a lutenist will send us a CD but Jennifer Bell did just that. Jennifer is a singer-songwriter and, in addition to lute, she plays 12-string guitar. In partnership with fiddler Wilson Walker and assisted by percussionist Neil Rabjohn she has released her debut album. …And So To Bedlam is a title that amused me when I first saw it.

At first I thought this album might be a bit too romantic for my taste. The first two tracks, ‘Winter’s My Lover’ and ‘Colours Of Harmony’, are quite stately as is quite a lot of the material. Jennifer avoids the feyness of Amazing Blondel and the bawdiness of the mediaeval festhall but brings her expertise in early music to her own songs without compromising either. The third track changes the emphasis. ‘The New Mistletoe Bough’ is a reworking of the old traditional song which is usually held to be an apocryphal story although everyone knows where it happened. Jennifer gives the tale not one but two macabre twists and that’s clever.

‘High Degree’ sets Jennifer’s word to a melody by Thomas Tallis. She solos on lute here and I can’t help but think that even one instrumental piece would have added a nice contrast. ‘The Lincoln Imp’ purports to describe the origin of the gargoyle in Lincoln cathedral and is a really jolly piece while the title track points the finger at the Victorian habit of visiting the local asylum for entertainment. Jennifer describes ‘Ashes In The Rain’ as a miserable song but it is rather lovely in its misery and then we come to my favourite song in the set. I was briefly disappointed to discover that ‘Oh Boy’ isn’t a cover of the Buddy Holly song but is a well-written and witty dialogue loosely based on Jennifer’s childhood. Finally, ‘The Pilgrim’s Song’ is about pilgrim fathers’ hopes and fears on leaving their home in Boston – see what she did there?

…And So To Bedlam is an album that rapidly grew on me. Jennifer Bell is a talented songwriter and although I prefer her narrative songs to the emotional ones – that’s true of me and most songwriters, actually – this is a very satisfying record.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘And So To Bedlam’: