ROAD NOT TAKEN – Fragment (own label)

FragmentA new Bristol-based folk four-piece comprising pure-voiced singer Anita Dobson, Claire Hamlen on fiddle, guitarist Ant Miles and Joe Hamlen providing bass, banjo and harmonium. Produced by Lukas Drinkwater, their debut, Fragment, mixes together two originals by Dobson, six traditional arrangements and a notable cover. Taking the self-penned material first, the six and a half minute ‘The White Gown’ actually sound like some Child ballad involving an impoverished brother and sister who, orphaned and made wards of the parish become servants to the local lord and lady and end up being transported to Australia and separated for stealing the white linen they toil to wash. Built around sparse pulsing percussion, scraped guitar strings and metronomic rhythm it interpolates a fiddle-led interlude excerpt of ‘Men Of Argyll’. Of similar feel, the other, opening unaccompanied before Hamlen’s lurching fiddle appears, is ‘The Grey Of The Water’ which, as you might suspect is about love lost through drowning, and, repeating the first verse at the end draws on colour imagery interposes a snatch of the hornpipe ‘King Of The Faeries’.

The album opens with a rousing harmonium and click percussion take on the familiar traditional chestnut ‘The Blacksmith’ to be followed by a six-minute version of ‘I’ll Weave My Love A Garland’ with pizzicato plucked banjo. Robert Burns’s much covered ‘My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose’ gets another outing and manages to come up smelling fresh, the two others from the well-thumbed songbooks being a musically variegated ‘Hares On The Mountain’ that starts on drone and blossoms into a fiddle finale and, opening on a clock ticking chime and plucked fiddle before wheezing harmonium arrives, ‘William Taylor’, an arrangement that again dusts off the cobwebs.

They close with the cover, a spare reading of Suzanne Vega’s ‘The Queen And The Soldier’ that features some fine bass work with Claire Hamlem harmonising, at times calling The McGarrigles to mind and serving as both an inspired conclusion to a hugely impressive debut and the first steps taken along the road to a surely acclaimed future career.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘The Grey Of The Water’ – official video: