JIMMY ALDRIDGE & SID GOLDSMITH – Many A Thousand (MATRAI8001)

Many A ThousandRising stars of the UK acoustic scene, Aldridge and Goldsmith are what I guess those outside the fraternity would call finger in the ear folk music. That is to say they often sing unaccompanied with a stylised, emphatic delivery in the manner of the traditional folk singers of yore. But, don’t mistake them for simple musical archivists or genre revivalists, there’s a strong contemporary pulse to their work on Many A Thousand, marrying traditional form to timely issues.

Case in point is Goldsmith’s singing of ‘Working Chap’, a bothy ballad with an additional verse by Martin Carthy, the a capella intro giving way to the duo’s guitar and banjo on a song that concerns the ever present struggle to make ends meet.

Underlining the social commentary, the album opens with the self-penned slow waltzer ‘Hope And Glory’, the deeper voiced Aldridge on vocals and banjo for a song that, showing a kindred spirit to Show of Hands, addresses the rise of nationalism and the appropriation of romanticised images of “old merrie England” and the country’s history to fan the flames of fear.

Another original number, ‘Turning Of The Year’ draws on an experience by Aldridge and his partner when, following a turbulent time of their lives, they were caught in a powerful storm on the Cornish cliffs, emerging from it with a feeling of renewal, the song, influenced by spooked and stark Appalachian blues, marking the power of the elements to heal.

They return to the traditional canon on several occasions. Underpinned by drone from the church organ at St. Helens, Hoveton, Goldsmith takes lead ‘The Reedcutter’s Daughter’, a tale of a traveller falling for a local girl and having to decide whether to put down roots or follow the road. Accompanied by simple fingerpicked acoustic, ‘Hawks Call’ is their rewrite of the slave spiritual ‘No More Auction Block’ as a song where military conflict no longer exists while, Sid on vocals, ‘Poachers Fate’, addressing the familiar struggle between the rich and poor, was learned from Norfolk folkie Harry Cox.

There’s three other non-originals, Sid taking lead on two, the first being the minimalist ‘The Last Ploughshare’ with its plucked strings and spare repeated acoustic line, a John Connolly number about the mistreatment of nature written for the World Wildlife Fund. Nature is again at the heart of the equally spare, this time based around banjo, ‘Via Extasis’, Liam Weldon’s take on love reflected in the fauna and flora. The third, which closes the album, sees them join voices for an a capella setting of poet Joseph Campbell’s paean to the tilling the land, ‘The Seasons’, whistling and the dawn chorus of birdsong seeing it out in peaceful manner.

Of the two remaining self-penned numbers, ‘A Monument To The Times/The Stepped Ford’ returns to social commentary, here concerning Shirebrook, a former Derbyshire colliery town, now home to several Sports Direct warehouses, a symbol of the zero hours/less than minimum wage culture that is strangling the country, the banjo instrumental playout written by Goldsmith at the English Acoustic Collective summer school.

Which just leaves ‘The Tide’, written for a celebration of Rotherhithe’s history, Aldridge taking lead on a moody, six-minute reflection on the ebb and flow of both the river and human flotsam and jetsam through London.

Self-produced and self-released, this not only builds on the firm foundations laid by their previous two releases, it gives them free passage to the straits in which sail the commanding galleons of the new folk generation fleet.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.jimmyandsidduo.com

‘The Reedcutter’s Daughter’ – live: