EDGELARKS – Feather (Dragonfly Roots DRCD006)

FeatherThe fifth album by Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, but Feather is only the second under their new name Edgelarks, this had the formidable task of following upon their eponymous ‘debut’. As you would expect, it does so effortlessly, expanding their musical palette as it goes and showcasing Martin’s ever maturing voice. The discovery of a single feather in the middle of a Dartmoor stone provided the impetus for the opening banjo-driven title track, the inability to identify its origin serving to underscore the notion that there remains mystery in the world and the album’s proclaimed mission to bring hope and positivity in dark times.

Ancient stones also lie behind ‘Where I Stand’, specifically the Roborough Down stone, one of the many Ogham stones which bear writing in the Irish runic alphabet, the lyrics reflecting the fact that this particular stone carries the inscription of two names, a father and his son who, as second generation no longer considered Irish as his native tongue. It’s not hard to see the wider resonance of embracing new cultures while honouring the old.

With Hannah on fiddle and Phillip augmenting guitar with stomp box, ‘Back From Hope’ is a breezy duet about a husband and wife who spent their Sundays walking the Peak District (Hope being a Derbyshire village), although the song has its origins in the true tragedy of John Axon, a Stockport railwayman killed while trying to stop a runaway freight train his story recounted in MacColl and Seeger’s Radio Ballads where his wife recalls their hikes.

Featuring dobro and banjo, ‘Wanting Nothing’ addresses a theme of contentment with just a home away from the bustle and a fire to warm, while National and tenor guitar lay down a slow-paced melody for ‘What We Save From The Tide’ where the beachcombing the flotsam and jetsam serves as a metaphor for the creative process.

The duo switch instruments with Phillip on banjo and Hannah on guitar for ‘Oyster’, another song of promise and hope that draws on nature (the poem referencing Emily Dickinson’s Hope Is The Thing With Feathers) in the idea of the mollusc spinning beauty out of pain., the six-minute track building to a frenetic mantra-like climax.

Fiddle shares space with stomp and shruti box for ‘Time Away’, a lazing, slowly loping celebration of the rejuvenating power of taking time off for a holiday, the pair delving into real life with ‘Growing’, dobro and banjo creating the dreamy atmosphere as, based on a true story from Sweden, the clearly metaphorical lyrics recount the loss and, sixteen years later, the recovery of a wedding ring, here wrapped around an unearthed carrot.

They head into the final stretch with the rhythmically itchy and melodically shape-shifting ‘Wander’, Henry’s buzzing beatbox harmonica putting in its only appearance alongside pizzicato five-string fiddle, shruti and stomp box for a song that (with a hint of Celtic folk to its swaying chorus) is essentially about migration and the definition of home as the place where you put down roots not where you come from.

The album’s sole traditional number comes with a six-minute rendition of Spencer The Rover, stripped back to the bare bones of harmonica, shruti drone and Martin’s exposed vocals, the final number being ‘The Longest Day’, plucked fiddle and National steel solo colouring a song of change and renewal inspired by the turning of the year, solstices, equinoxes and, the song building from calm to a swelling anthemic feel on Martin’s soaring fiddle, traditions like the May Day dancing the sun up on Dartmoor and a reminder that “the day is long and full of hope/And the circle turns forever”.

They describe their intention as to create an album of “bright songs for dark days”. Let it light up your life.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.edgelarks.co.uk

‘Feather’ – live:

EDGELARKS – Edgelarks (Dragonfly DRCD004)

EdgelarksHaving previously traded under their own names, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin have decided to save space on the album sleeves (well, after this one anyway) by reinventing themselves as Edgelarks. Fans will be pleased to know, however, that, musically, the duo haven’t rung too many changes.

Featuring contributions from Lukas Drinkwater on bass, John Elliott on drums and keyboards and table player Niall Robinson, inspired by last year’s tour of Australia, the album deals with themes of margins and marginalisation, of boundaries, transition and hope, opening in ‘Landlocked’, a moody, banjo-pinioned song about Nancy Perriam, a woman from Exmouth, who, in the early part of the 19th century, went to sea and travelled the world with the navy.

The slouching rhythm of ‘No Victory’ introduces a new instrument to their musical repertoire with Martin playing a pedal powered shruti box while the track also features Henry’s beatbox harmonica technique. Indeed, the instrumentation throughout is as eclectic as it is extensive, featuring Dobro, fiddle, banjo, a variety of guitars and the return of the Chaturangui, an Indian classical slide guitar played by Henry. On ‘Undelivered’, a song inspired by the discovery of a trunkload of undelivered 17th century letters, specifically one from a woman to the father of her unborn child, he even plays his lap slide Weissenborn with a paintbrush to create a buzzing drone.

Of a more recent origin, three intersecting true stories make up the sparse, drone-backed ‘Caravans’, pivoting around the 2010 sub-prime mortgages crash documented in the film The Big Short and exploring themes of ensuing loss and lives lived outside the financial vortex where dreams can kill.

Elsewhere, the Celtic-tinged ‘Signposts’, the most traditional folk sounding number, and the minimalist and appropriately glacial arrangement of ‘Iceberg’ offer fairly straightforward metaphors about making connections and people having hidden depths, respectively.

A suitably discordant affair, ‘Yarl’s Wood’ strikes a political note, being titled after and written about the Bedfordshire immigrant removal centre and the allegations of the abusive treatment of the women detainees, the theme of refugees resurfacing on ‘Borders’, which, set to drone and clacking percussion, is based around the true story of Afghan refugees who, seeking to ensure her future, send their five-year-old daughter on a journey, on foot, with two cousins to northern Europe in search of asylum.

Thematically connected, the tabla-dappled ‘Song Of The Jay’, ostensibly about how the Californian Bush Jay apparently sings a special song for the ‘funerals’ of other birds, of different species, serves as a metaphor for universal kinship. The drone is also created from a sample of a Jay singing.

Although also going by the title ‘The Emigrants Song’, sung in Cornish by Martin, the rhythmically pulsing traditional ‘Estren’ takes a different tack in the tale of an American traveller in Cornwall, leaving it open to question whether he intends to be true to the woman he meets and declares he’ll take back home or that she’s the latest in the list of those to whom he’s pledged s his loves.

There’s another traditional number to be found with the mortality-themed ‘What’s The Life of Man?’ given a suitably simple and reflective tone before the instrumentation swells in the final stretch. As well as them both featuring the Chaturangui, it also serves to set the scene for the upbeat final track, the self-penned, acoustic accompanied ‘The Good Earth’ which treats on nature’s life cycle of death and renewal and, by extension, the connections we share with one another, both those around us and those who have gone before as she sings how “we grow on old wood, we are links in the chain.”

The couple say they chose their new name as it captures the concept of liminality or transition explored in their songs and the idea of their music being on the periphery. Given the quality here, that may be a status that will also prove to be in a state of transition.

Mike Davies

Phil Henry and Hannah Martin 24/9/17a

Artists’ website: www.edgelarks.co.uk

‘Song Of The Jay’:

Edgelarks – Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin – New Album and Remaining Tour Dates

Edgelarks

We were recently treated to the hatching of Edgelarks (the new name for duo Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin) at the Southdowns Folk Festival in Bognor Regis last Sunday evening. The name change also spearheads the launch of the new album by the same name that is released 6.10.17.

The definition of Edgelark is “to sing about or from the margins”.

So its no surprise that the album focus on transitional spaces, minimal places, people, refugees and times. It looks at boundaries and thresholds; crossroads and borderlands.  There is a travelling theme that runs through the new album which spans stories of transition from old to new, all documented in song and wonderful music to a backdrop of shades of early morning light contrasted with the last ebb of light at the end of the day.

Darren Beech

Edgelarks describe this further as:

The idea that, despite often being places of marginalisation, these are also places of change – and therefore places of hope. That when social norms break down, when you are between two established worlds, there is a chance for new perspectives. That in the end, we have far more in common than things that divide us.

Artist Web links:

www.edgelarks.co.uk