Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage announce their new album

Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage

Two years ago, Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage stirred the folk and acoustic world with a stand-out debut album and there’s been little slumbering since. Now they are set to release an arresting second studio album, Awake. The combination of Hannah’s outstandingly pure, clear voice, their perfect fit harmonies and Ben’s exquisite dobro are the rock-solid foundations of this rising duo, first witnessed in the 2016 album, Before The Sun. This quality pairing unarguably has hypnotic effect, painting aural dreamscapes around them in resonant songs that are given room to breathe.

When Hannah’s folk family travels across Europe and sojourn in America ended and she returned to her native East Anglia, a chance meeting at a Cambridge folk club with The Willows band member Ben was the start of something special. Ben went on to produce Hannah’s solo album Charms Against Sorrow before they ventured into duo territory uncorking a beguiling, intricately woven, ethereal sound all their own. Before the Sun saw them named in many Albums of the Year lists including the 2016 fRoots Critics Poll and hinted at a largely untapped song writing talent amongst the expertly executed traditional arrangements and covers. That song writing skill moves more centre stage in Awake – an album that shows them fulfilling all the promise heaped on them.

Once again, they have returned to Toronto, putting Grammy-nominated Canadian producer David Travers-Smith (Madison Violet, The Wailin’ Jennys) at the helm for this album crafted with infinite care. The eleven-track release has six strong originals alongside innovative arrangements of traditional songs and captivating covers from the Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie cannons. The eye-catching album cover by psychedelic artist Alan Forbes depicts the High Priestess and a deer as The Hanged Man from the tarot card deck and tarot icons run through the CD booklet. Says Hannah:

“We used tarot throughout the recording process to help us think and feel more deeply about the music.”

A duo who delve into the mysterious and often like to release music in line with the lunar calendar, their live show sees them huddled around a single microphone, drawing the audience in. And so it is with this magnetic album.

Alongside Hannah’s trademark mountain dulcimer and Ben’s delicious dobro, they both play guitars on the album. Adding their magic are guest musicians from both sides of the Atlantic – from the UK Jon Thorne on double bass, Evan Carson on percussion and Norwich singer songwriter Jess Morgan, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts on additional vocals and from Canada Chris Coole on banjo, David Travers-Smith on horns and organ, Burke Carroll on pedal steel and on vocals, Vancouver-born American-Canadian alt country singer songwriter Suzanne Ungerleider who performs under the name Oh Susanna.

Entwined in the sturdy roots of English and North American music, Awake stirs with two original Sanders/Savage numbers – the mythical sea woman yearns to return to her spiritual sea home in the banjo-laced ‘Selkie Song’ and there is more heartache in ‘I Met A Man’, a modern retelling of the ancient story of love between a woman and a green man, with Burke Carroll weaving in his wonderful pedal steel.

The original material continues in ‘A Thousand New Moons’ – a luminous, gossamer-spun reflection on endings and beginnings, with Ben on lead vocal. The symbolic number 7 is the title of a song Hannah wrote for those who search for omens in the natural world, prompted by a friend desperate for a life change. The haunting instrumentation adds pedal steel and horns to Hannah and Ben’s guitar duet and the popular ‘One For Sorrow’ magpie nursery rhyme provides the chorus. The beautiful title track was originally written by Ben to tempt a talented friend out of a musical hiatus but has taken on a wider meaning and here it enjoys a lush vocal crescendo with the duo joined by Jess Morgan and Oh Susanna. Reaching is an exquisite, mellow, pin-drop perfect love song written by Hannah which closes the album in this duo’s soft tread style, building to a flourish which unusually features Ben on drums.

Awake is an album that stirs the soul and further endorses the empathetic class act that is Sanders and Savage. Released on May 11 on the Sungrazing Records label it will be distributed by Proper Distribution.

Artists’ website: https://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ – official video:

HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE – Before The Sun (Sungrazing Records SGR002)

Before The SunHannah Sanders first solo album, Charms Against Sorrow, was produced by Willows guitarist Ben Savage who also played on the record and shared in the arrangements. With Before The Sun their partnership has been formalised but little else has changed except that the duo went to Toronto to record with David Travers-Smith.

To the mix of traditional songs and covers is now added some originals and the first ‘The Fall (Hang)’ opens the set. I’m still puzzling over this track – it could be a reinterpretation of a murder ballad or a macabre accident like Bob Pegg’s ‘The Hanged Man’. I think I lean towards the former. Next is the first traditional song, ‘Come All Ye Fair & Tender Maids’, a mid-Atlantic version finished with a playground round. ‘What’s It Tonight My Love?’, another original, sees Ben take the first lead vocal. Its description of night in the city puts me in mind of ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ even though there is no resemblance between the two songs, other than the feeling that it leaves you with.

Next come three traditional songs. The first is ‘Lady Margaret’, an English song with variants in the United States. ‘Clayton Boone’ is definitely American and gives Ben another lead vocal and the chance to play Dobro. It is, of course, a variant of ‘Gypsy Davy’. Finally in this section we have the haunting ‘Deep Blue Sea’, a version that doesn’t quite match any set of lyrics that I can find. Hannah and Ben’s version is rather more gentle than the standard text and rather lovely.

Hannah and Ben play guitars, dulcimer and autoharp and are joined by Kevin Breit and Katriona Gilmore on melody instruments with Evan Carson and Jon Thorne on percussion and double bass. For the most part they are used sparingly but they do get to have a blow on Richie Stearns’ ‘Ribbons And Bows’. Joining them on vocals are Jim Causley, Robin Gillan and Jade Rhiannon.

The final track is ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ sung as a duet as it is written. They slow it down a bit and the singing is sad and wistful where Dylan managed a blend of bitterness and resignation. He knew the back-story, of course, and it all happened fifty years ago but I’d advise anyone tackling the song to read the relevant section of a biography. It’s beautifully performed, as is the whole of the album, but to an old curmudgeon like me it misses something.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

‘Come All Ye Fair And Tender Maids’ – official video:

Hannah Sanders – debut album


Charms Against Sorrow is the brand new début album from singer Hannah Sanders. A charismatic and distinctive vocalist, Hannah has already begun attracting critical attention. Reviewing her 2014 EP Fate, FATEA magazine stated “There are shades of Sandy Denny in Hannah’s expert vocal delivery at times… I hear as much akin to early Joni Mitchell, in terms of melodic manipulation and vocal compass (diagnostic features like confident leaps in register), moulding of phrasing and basic style of guitar accompaniment”. Ben Savage (of The Willows) produced the album and it is he who also plays the acutely sympathetic dobro and guitar in support.

What is evident throughout these recordings is Hannah’s deep respect for tradition, something ”that is really important to me”. ”I work from primarily traditional sources”, she says, ”and traditional song was what I first sung with my family, The Dunns, when I was still a teenager”. Subsequently, as an adult, she left music for a time to pursue a career as a cultural anthropologist, becoming a leading expert on contemporary witchcraft and popular culture, and living in Boston, Massachusetts, until returning to the UK in 2013. “When I lived in America”, she continues, ”these songs were invaluable as they kept me anchored to my own history and landscape.”

The instrumentation deployed on the album reflects both the American and British influences on her musical style. These instruments were ”selected because they work in sympathy with the songs, but speak more of the range of my (and Ben’s) influences (both folk and otherwise).” The musicians involved include family (Hannah’s sister Ruth) and friends — Jon Thorne (Lamb, John Smith, Martha Tilston), and three members of The Willows (Ben, Evan and Jade).

From the beautiful ballads of Britain to sweet songs of the American mountains, Hannah brings lightness and depth to her renditions of songs traditional or contemporary. ”My intention” she explains ”is that my delivery and the material itself should convey depth and substance and not just through control or tone (which are esteemed in traditional singing). Instead, for me delivery is about risk – taking risks in arrangement, in vocal elasticity, and in tonal blending. The songs are big enough, and old enough to have anything thrown at them!

”My job is to deliver a real range of mood and feeling, to bring the listener into a place where they can feel more. I sense this about all the songs, but for me it is most notable in ’Go Your Way’, ’I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and Lord Franklin’”.

The recording was made “grass roots”. ”We recorded it, variously, in an old mill in Suffolk (in a massive empty octagonal room with a fire), in my friend (and folk singer/harpist) Nick Hennessey’s little rural Lake District cottage in the heart of winter, and in our (mine and Ben’s) kitchens and living rooms. You can hear various ambient noises: the fire crackling in the background, you can hear birds and the wind – the funny noise before ’A Sailors Life’ is me trudging up the stairs in the mill. We wanted a sense of liveness, of intimacy, to the album.”

The result is a work that bears the intimacy of all these recording spaces yet is the culmination of a musical journey across two continents. ”For me singing is a moment of connection” Hannah says ”to history, to the inner emotion of a song, and, ultimately (if I’m lucky), to the listener”.

Artist’s website: hannahsandersfolk.com

A live take of ‘Geordie’:


DUCIE – Mancunia

DUCIE MancuniaOpening with a splendidly crisp “Dr Gilberts” which I haven’t heard since the days of Five Hand Reel, the quartet of Andy Dinan (fiddle), Ian Fletcher (guitars and programming), Jon Thorne (double bass) and Richard Sliwa on percussion certainly know how to swing. Having caught my attention from the outset perhaps it’s just me but the one thing I’m not too sure about is the ‘jazz’ bridge which segues from the second tune to the third. There’s no doubt what a superb musician Fletcher is (as are the others) it’s just that for me at least it’s a step too far and a distraction from what is an otherwise brilliant set-piece. I suppose if you’re looking to compare artists…a good way to judge whether you’ll possibly like someone you haven’t heard before…then I’d say Ducie are nearer to Lunasa than the Bothy Band and every bit as exciting. Crossing genres is staple fare for a band of this quality and they don’t have any problem combining Celtic with Austrian, Afro-Cuban and even Reggae engaging the listener with enough technical dexterity to pass over the fact there are no vocals. This really is a delightful debut and will undoubtedly prove popular amongst connoisseurs of high end music.