WEST OF EDEN – Flat Earth Society (West of Music WOMCD12)

Flat Earth SocietyIt’s a touch ironic that one of the best bands currently energising traditional British and Celtic folk music with a contemporary lens happens to come from Sweden. Comprising Lars Broman on fiddle, Martin Holmlund on bass, drummer Ola Karlevo, Henning Sernhede on lap steel and electric guitar and fronted by Jenny and Martin Schaub, the former on accordion and the latter playing assorted guitars, piano, cittern and mandolin, they’ve been playing music since 2005 and this is their eighth album (two of them being Celtic Christmas collections), recorded predominantly in Scotland (in anything from churches to distilleries) and featuring contributions from such folk luminaries as Damien O’Kane, John McCusker and Heidi Talbot.

Unlike some of their past albums, this doesn’t have a conceptual basis, other than generally being about partings and new beginnings, opening with the moody, rumbling percussion, acoustic title track, Jarlath Henderson on low whistle and Jenny, her airily pure vocals at times evocative of Anne Briggs, taking lead on a song about a broken romance in which the narrator’s world has been left flat.

Kicking up their folk rock heels, as the title suggests ‘The Dwindling Of The Day’ concerns the passing of time, Jenny singing about holding on to memories of someone who’s no longer around, slowing down slightly for ‘Horsehoofs & Primroses’, O’Kane on tenor guitar, a traditional-flavoured number of the urge to go a roaming when Spring is in the air.

Henderson contributing harmonies, set to puttering percussion, ‘Pretty Please’ is a liltingly lovely song about being weary of domestic squabbles and “rocking our boat on the wildest of seas”, giving way to ‘Kate, Are You Ready Now?’ as, Henderson on Uillean pipes and Karlevo laying down a slow march beat, Martin makes his first lead vocal appearance on a stirring strummed ballad that puts a spin on the jilted at the alter tale, this time it being the bride who doesn’t turn up while the groom tries to convince himself she’s just running late. Jenny returns for the jazzy ‘Porcelain Days’, hints of Pentangle colouring its lyric about navigating your way through a fragile relationship walking on eggshells and hoping the other partner will stick around as the ice starts to crack.

The first of two instrumentals, ‘Isak/Doris’ combines two fiddle tunes, Duncan Chisholm on the first with its military snare beat before McCusker takes over on the sprightlier second half. Then, it’s on to ‘Old Miss Partridge’, O’Kane on banjo and Jenny duetting with Talbot on a jaunty, accordion-led romp about an eccentric old bird suspected of being a witch and being found dead, blasted by lightning near a tree on the hill, her ghost still wandering at night.

It’s back to melancholia with McCusker providing low whistle for as Jenny sings the simply strummed, strings laden lament ‘Come Winter, He’ll Be Gone’, another song about loss and partings with the changing seasons serving to metaphorically chart the course of the relationship on the album’s most poetic lyric, evocative at times of Christina Rosetti.

Putting on his best Irish accent, the fiddle-accompanied, trotting rhythm ‘Vipers & Fireflies’ is Martin’s only other lead vocal, another song about how our worst nature sometimes gets the better of us and we say things in the heat of the moment we later regret, here using weather imagery as a metaphor.

The final song has Jenny accompanied by McCusker on tin whistle for ‘Peacock Blues’, its lively Irish jig-like tune belying a lyric that returns to a theme of arguments with the narrator being in the shadow of a more dominant personality (“I am the ceiling and you are the sky…you light up the room and I’m in the gloom”), the album ending on the other instrumental, ‘Rowbotham’s Map’, arranged for accordion and fiddle, bringing things full circle with the title referring to the Flat Earth Map of the World drawn up by the artist Samuel Rowbotham around 1873. Flat or round, global recognition for West of Eden among folk circles is long overdue.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.westofeden.com

West Of Eden and friends live at Ben Nevis distillery:

VARIOUS – Spiritual Music From The Hebrides (AN LANNTAIR)

Spiritual Music From The HebridesSpiritual Music From The Hebrides was recorded at a live event that drew together singers and musicians from the worlds of the Presbyterian church, classical and traditional music.

At its heart is the centuries-old tradition of Gaelic psalm singing which is pretty much unique to the Hebrides. Five of the tracks are identified as psalms and four are led by a precentor. The style is something like the tradition of the southern American churches and the role is analogous to the cantor of the Jewish faith. It’s a very powerful sound with nineteen singers involved and it can be quite difficult to get used to, not least because it’s all in Gaelic. The first one I even vaguely recognised was Jenna Cumming’s singing of psalm 73 to Connor Quigley’s tune ‘Wetherby’ and the other was the final track, ‘Faisg Air Mo Dhia’ which also marks the only English to be heard.

The intensity of the choral is leavened by solo and duo pieces with musical accompaniment and the album opens with Duncan Chisholm leading an instrumental version of his own song, ‘An Ribhinn Donn’. This album is not destined to be a huge seller but I think it will find its market.

Dai Jeffries

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Label website: www.lanntair.com

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Folk Awards 2013 (Proper Music Properfolk14)

Folk Awards 2013Glorious…there’s no other word to describe it. Opening with every folk fans favourite band of ragamuffins Bellowhead and “Roll The Woodpile Down” this 3 CD compilation of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards positively blasts forth heralding the achievements of all concerned. We in the folk world have a lot to be grateful for and the inclusion of (amongst others) Hannah James & Sam Sweeney, Gilmore & Roberts and Kathryn Tickell show how they can ‘acoustically’ kick butt along with ‘rock’ music’s finest. It brings a beaming smile to my face to feel privileged as I do that my enjoyment of this much maligned genre really can give every other form of music a run for its money and that recording’s like this will hopefully inspire the next generation to pick up the baton and run with it. Mind you…before I sign off (heartily recommending that you purchase a copy of the album) I’d like to credit Smooth Operations Jon Lewis on whose shoulders rest the unenviable task of selecting this compilation as it must have been an agonising decision choosing only one track from each of the featured artists plus the bonus ten track CD of the Young Folk Award contenders. Finally, Proper Music and the production team led by the legendary Brian Ledgard have to be congratulated for their support each year in allowing ‘our’ music such a fantastic shop window (and not a hint of Mary Portas in sight) in which to showcase such astonishing talent.

PETE FYFE

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