SERIOUS SAM BARRETT – The Seeds Of Love (Ya Dig? Records YD008)

The Seeds Of LoveTaking its title (and several tracks) from an anthology of folk songs from the British Isles gifted to him by his wife, the nasally-voiced, clawhammer banjo-playing Yorkshireman’s eighth album, The Seeds Of Love, is another fine collection of homegrown Appalachian-influenced tunes generally centred around love lost unrequited, tragic and true. It opens with the banjo plucked ‘Valentine’s Day’, one of the two self-penned songs, albeit based on the tone and feel of the traditional song (‘How Should I Your True Love Know’) Ophelia sings in Hamlet following her father’s murder.

Moving to the actual traditional canon, ‘The Waggoner’  (such tales a folk relative of country music’s truck driving genre) is a jaunty fingerpicked romp of Tyneside’s Great Northern Coalfield. with the text, in which some lass moans how her canny lad  never comes to see her  “unless he wants a bit”, taken from A.A. Lloyd’s Come All Ye Bold Miners: Ballads And Songs Of The Coalfields set to an original tune influenced by Dick Gaughan’s  arrangement of ‘Glenlogie’.

The other self-penned, traditional style number is ‘Every Night Has An Ending’, one of  three tracks rendered a capella, essentially a rewrite of  ‘Derry Goal’ (rich woman petitions queen to save her lover from hanging) that recasts it as a philosophical musing about love’s salvation.  The other two unaccompanied recordings, appearing later in the running order, line up as ‘Drowsy Sleeper’, a variant of ‘Arise, Arise’ and ‘Awake, Awake’ set to a new tune, and the closing ‘Was On An April Morning’, another of numerous folk songs advising of how young men are false and not to be trusted.

Returning to banjo, ‘Bushes and Briars’ is one of the more familiar numbers, again set to his own bluegrassy tune, while ‘Bonny May’, which runs to almost six minutes, comes from the Scottish Border ballad tradition where it seems a common fate for shepherdesses to be raped by passing landed gentry, bearing babes with the assailant, at least here, eventually doing right by her.

If tending sheep can be a fraught occupation, so too can mining, unfortunates falling victim to pit disasters or, as in the case of ‘The Recruited Collier’, with Barrett back on acoustic guitar, being press ganged into the military, this a particularly poignant account sung by the wife left behind. The two remaining tracks balance between banjo and guitar, the first being another well-known ballad, ‘Three Ravens’,  a variation on ‘Twa Corbies’ but, as far as dead knights and hungry carrion go, not quite as dark since in this version his hounds stay and guard their master’s body and  his pregnant lover gets to bury him. Barrett again provides his own tune as well as changing the refrain to give ‘derry down’ the boot in favour of banjo solo. The other, with a sprightly guitar melody, again reworking tune and refrain, is  ‘Blow Away The Morning Dew’ aka ‘The Baffled Knight’ a traditional display song which tells how a likely lad reckons he’s on to a sure thing when he chances on a maiden who offers to bed him if he takes her to her father’s estate, only to end up being left outside and mocked for his gullibility and failure to get his leg over.

One of the finest traditional albums of the year to date, Barrett has sown the seeds, now enjoy the harvest.

Mike Davies

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