SAM LEE – Old Wow (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD743)

Old WowIt’s hard to credit that Old Wow is only Sam Lee’s third album. It seems that he’s been around forever, done so much and already had such an impact on the British folk scene. The album is inspired by Sam’s other consuming passion, the natural world, and there are plenty of bucolic songs about the mythical rural idyll. These are not necessarily those songs but I do detect a pattern. The ten tracks are divided into three sections, heart, hearth and earth and it seems that the first song in each group fits the rural theme – after that you’re on your own.

The opening track, the first of the heart set is ‘The Garden Of England’ which used to be ‘The Seeds Of Love’ until Sam started work on it. It provides the album’s title, which is Sam’s reaction to nature, particularly after a close encounter with a buzzard. So far, so straightforward. Next is ‘Lay This Body Down’, followed by ‘The Moon Shines Bright’. Well, death is natural. Completing the section is ‘Soul Cake’ and Sam confuses us by beginning the song with ‘Green Grow The Rushes O’. Soul cakes were traditionally baked for Halloween and now the traditional children’s song takes on a more sinister aspect.

I’m sure that you’re familiar with Sam’s arranging style and he doesn’t stray much from it on Old Wow. At the heart of the record are piano, bass and percussion with cello on two tracks plus Hardanger fiddle and, for the first time, electric guitar played by producer Bernard Butler.

Hearth begins with ‘Spencer The Rover’ but returns to tragedy with a song I hadn’t heard before, ‘Jasper Sea’, a tale of a father and son drowning. ‘Sweet Sixteen’ doesn’t get any jollier. The opening of the earth section with ‘Turtle Dove’ is symbolic of Sam’s preoccupations. He has spoken about the decline of these birds before and the words of betrayal that he adds to the song are not for the girl being left behind. ‘Worthy Wood’ and ‘Balnafanen’ are both laments and Sam incorporates into the latter parts of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ as he does with ‘Lay This Body Down’.

Old Wow is a complex album – all of Sam’s are. It carries its own darkness and, although it is inspired by nature you will search in vain for shepherdesses and jolly ploughboys. It will grip you, however.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Lay This Body Down’ – official video:

Sam Lee announces new album, Old Wow

Sam Lee

Sam Lee plays a unique role in the British music scene. He is a multi award-winning singer with a rich and soulful voice, a committed folk song collector and a successful promoter of imaginative live events. With training in visual art and contemporary dance, Sam has presented acclaimed radio documentaries and appeared on stages around the globe. And if all that wasn’t enough, Sam Lee is also a passionate conservationist and highly effective environmental campaigner. This is seen through his work with Extinction Rebellion, Music Declares Emergency and the recent RSPB campaign, Let Nature Sing, where Sam helped get 3 minutes of birdsong into the UK Top 20 charts for the first time.

Sam Lee’s 3rd album, Old Wow, his first for respected indie label, Cooking Vinyl, is due for release on 31st January 2020. The album will be accompanied by his most comprehensive UK tour to date (including his debut show at Celtic Connections 29th January 2020). As with Sam’s previous albums (Mercury Music Prize nominated/Arts Foundation Award-winning, Ground Of Its Own, 2012, followed in 2015 by the equally acclaimed, The Fade in Time), this latest album looks set to surprise, challenge and inspire.

Old Wow was recorded at RAK Studios and Studio 355 in London and is produced by Bernard Butler (Suede, MacAlmont & Butler) who also contributes electric guitar, an instrument Sam has never recorded with before. “It’s played so beautifully and sensitively here that you wouldn’t necessarily know it was an electric guitar at all!”. A remarkable and rare guest vocal is provided by Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) with Caoimhin O Raghallaigh of the acclaimed band, The Gloaming, joining on Hardanger violin. Matthew Barley provides cello on two songs. There are also beautiful harmonies provided by Cosmo Sheldrake and spoken-word poet, Dizraeli. A dazzling supporting cast of musicians features: James Keay on piano, Misha Mullov-Abbado on bass and on percussion, Josh Green. Bucolic front cover artwork is provided by Alex Merry (Boss Morris – and designer for Gucci).

Old Wow is an album devoted to the natural world; a commitment that has dominated Sam’s heart and non-musical practice for more years than he has been singing. It’s an album about our complicated relationship with planet earth but also, about the impact that ecological crisis has on our sense of self and the place we call home. The title came to Sam during a journey in the wilds of Scotland, where he had gone to reconnect with nature. While alone on a mountainside, a buzzard suddenly swooped down and screamed right over his head. Sam felt he was ‘receiving a message, telling me to listen properly and pay attention and the name Old Wow surfaced. I use “Old Wow” to describe that sense of wonder and magic that can, if listened to deeply enough, animate nature very powerfully. It also describes those experiences which exist beyond the natural realm which are often described in our folk songs.’

On Old Wow, this highly accomplished and pioneering singer has created a timeless bridge; ‘music that simultaneously looks back into the past and ahead to the future’. It also provides a moving and “urgent cry to help inspire us all to fall back in love with the natural world that we might strengthen our resolve to protect her”.

Artist’s website:

‘The Moon Shines Bright’ – in the studio: