Yorkshire’s Jack Rutter’s new album, This Is Something Constant (the first in four years!), is a brilliant collection of traditional songs graced with ancient grinned wisdom. And Jack’s quintessential Topic/Fellside voice is a gift that inhabits these burning human melodies and exists in the same orbit as Dick Gaughan, Chris Foster, Nic Jones, Chris Wood, Roy Bailey, the Dransfields, and (in lieu of mentioning so many others) Jez Lowe.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “Great folk music can plant hopeful seeds in any garden that is always ripe with the decay of universal melodic roots”.
Sure. And by the way, in the midst of our current “mixed up, muddled up, shook up world” (Thank you, Ray Davies!), This Is Something Constant provides the warm certainty of a first sipped hot coffee while watching a crisp autumnal sunrise.
That said, the interesting appeal here is a repertoire of obscure traditional tunes. ‘Bold Nevison’ is a highwayman song, with a dramatic harmonica/fiddle groove about “Swift Nick”, whose luck ends with a hangman’s noose. Literary ballad poetic justice, I suppose! And ‘Earl Scarslington’s Seven Daughters’ is the tale of true love that didn’t quite meet the approval of “Jane’s cruel father”. Thankfully, that love prevails, as Jane and William escape into the mountains as the pipes of Mike McGoldrick swirl in defiant approval. Then, the strident ‘Many’s A Night (The Harvest Home)’ is a vibrant celebration of vocal, fiddle (courtesy of Patsy Reid!), bouzouki, and a brushfire of pipes. And ‘Sledburn Fair’ captures the joy of youthful fun. As fair Nell said in the song, “By gum, we acted well in coming to Sledburn Fair”. Indeed, what else needs to be said!
But, as with any complete folk song repertoire, there’s more murderous behavior a foot: ‘Lord Maxwell’s Last Goodnight’ details the tale of one John Maxwell who killed James Johnston over some sort of family feud, and was later executed in Edinburgh, with even more literary ballad justice!
It’s just an idea, but all these “hopeful seeds in a garden ripe with the decay of universal roots” (Thank you, once again, friend Kilda!) provides a really decent and quite ageless compass for human behaviour. The great Richard Thompson once sang, “You must share with your nearest till the end of your days/Or else it’s forever you’re on the old changing way”. That’s folk bible school ancient grinned wisdom stuff. And these songs from This Is Something Constant are in the vocabulary of “Darby the tinker and his brother Tam”. The songs on this album will (metaphorically) “We’ll fix up your kettles” and “sharpen your knives”. Good folk songs do that.
Then time slows a bit with the acoustic guitar voiced with a dab of pipes purity song, ‘Ninety Nine & Ninety’. Nice!
But the flurry of bouzouki, whistles, fiddle, pipes, harmonica, and acoustic guitar returns for the final songs. ‘Shepherd On The Mountain’ is a rather nice buoyant love fiddle-fueled song, without, thankfully, any dark cloud Thomas Hardy plot twist to be found! Good for William and Nancy! But sadly, ‘James Atley & Sir Fenix’ oozes an eerie piped vibe with a tale about “a false knight” (aka Sir Fenix), the “king’s daughter” (of course!), an innocent lover (aka James Atley), and the whole ‘Matty Groves’ deadly folk song template. This is timeless and dramatic tragic ballad stuff. Then, in contrast (and it’s a very nice contrast at that!), the final song, ‘Upon The High Mountain’, is an up-tempo tune that joyfully pulses and pipes the album into its final traditional grooves.
There Is Something Constant, thankfully, is tangled with olden oak roots, in a wooden circumference that circles round and round with cautionary tales and a discerning compass that sings, (to quote Richard Thompson one more time!) “If you really mean it, it all comes back again”. Indeed, these songs “mean it” and they have all come back, once again, like those circles of wisdom in any aged tree that continue to sing, forever and a day, with eternal belief in those “hopeful seeds in any garden that is always ripe with the decay of universal melodic roots”.
Artist’s website: https://www.jackruttermusic.com
‘Bold Nevison The Highwayman’ – official video: