I was captivated from the moment I first heard the single and opening track of this album. The powerful harmonies of ‘Winter’s Night’ set the scene for what is to come on Ink Of The Rosy Morning. It’s a fine song in any version I’ve heard but Hannah and Ben give it a lightness that lifts it to another level and provides a perfect introduction to an Anglo-American collection of mostly traditional songs stripped back to their essentials: just two voices and a selection of guitars.
Next up is ‘Polly O Polly’, a murder ballad in the classic style in which a naïve young girl is duped by the man she thinks to marry. He carries her off and stabs her to death for no adequately explored reason. That is followed by one of my favourite songs, ‘When First I Came To Caledonia’, a story from Cape Breton. It starts out with the mundane story of a young man’s arrival to work in the eel fishery business and then being laid off “until fish got plenty on Scatarie”. From there it turns into song of unrequited love and drunkenness without skipping a beat – a masterpiece of economical songwriting – and provides the album with its title.
Neither ‘Lovely Joan’ nor ‘False True Love’ need any explanation, although both are given striking new arrangements, but ‘A-Life, A-Lie’ does. It sounds vaguely traditional but is written by Hannah and Ben and seems to convey the deprivation and isolation of the lockdown years. ‘Sweet Nightingale’ is a genuinely happy song of seduction that was regularly mangled in the folk clubs of my youth. Hannah and Ben take it on its merits, casting it as a duet although Hannah struggles to get a word in edgeways. It lulls us into a false sense of security before ‘Earl Richard’, the feminist response to ‘Polly O Polly’ with the addition of the bird who threatens to expose the murderess. There are narrative similarities with ‘False True Love’ with the addition of violence and murder, although you can’t help but think that he was asking for it. Ben provides delightful breaks on Dobro which, for me, could have gone on longer.
‘Lark In The Morning’ is another duet given a funky arrangement which Steeleye would have employed if they had thought of it. It turns into an earthier song than you might have suspected. Finally we have ‘The River Don’t Run’, written by Richard Guard and Anna Crockatt. It’s opening lines almost took me back to Scatarie although it’s a very different story about the demolition of Agar Town in 1864 to make room for railway lines. It’s a fascinating story if you have a mind to look it up.
Ink Of The Rosy Morning will be one of my albums of the year come Christmas. The interplay of Hannah and Ben’s voices and their instruments, including two vintage guitars, give a wonderful old-time feel to the songs. Although the majority are English in origin they have the touch of Americana that Hannah and Ben are noted for and which suggests links across the Atlantic. This is an album that you will want to keep close by.
Artists’ website: www.hannahbenmusic.com
‘False True Love’ – official video: