EDGELARKS – Henry Martin (Dragonfly Roots DRCD008)

Henry MartinIt was only a matter of time before Phillip and Hannah called an album Henry Martin. If ever there was a title crying out for a home this is it. The pandemic has offered Edgelarks the opportunity to take a side-step from the path they have been following and record an album of traditional songs. It was recorded and produced by Phillip Henry with every instrument they possess and as innovative as anything else they’ve done. They have never been the most traditional performers and they don’t disappoint here.

The opener, ‘Greenwood Laddie’, begins with electric guitar and hand-claps with Hannah Martin’s voice pure and powerful. After the first verse the track explodes with wailing guitar over a chugging rhythm – so much happening at once and Phillip’s harmonica bringing the song to an end. ‘Locks And Bolts’ features violin and banjo with percussion constructed from samples of keys in locks and sliding bolts. It is a psychologically dark song (complete with wicked uncle) but Edgelarks don’t labour the point and their arrangement is relatively restrained. The same holds for ‘Henry Martin’ itself and here they are content to let the song tell its own story.

Phillip takes the lead vocal on ‘The Mountain Stream’, slightly fragile over banjo and fiddle while ‘Queen Amongst The Heather’ is sung as duet. I can’t help thinking that Hannah’s intonation and inflection owes something to June Tabor, particularly at the lower end of her range, and ‘Come Write Me Down’ allows her to fully explore that range. This isn’t the familiar Copper Family sing-along version but rather that from the Peter Kennedy and Sabine Baring-Gould collections and Edgelarks expand a fairly brief song with lots of instrumental experimentation.

‘The Deluded Lover’ is a song with hidden depths but, unusually, it’s the young man who made the bad decision and Phillip and Hannah then contrast it with the more familiar narrative of ‘Bird In A Cage’. Their arrangement nods to the Southern Appalachian roots of the song with a powerful rhythm and improvised instrumental breaks. Finally, they return to simplicity with ‘The Seeds Of Love’. Simple, yes, but a fresh and powerful version for all that.

It’s clear that Edgelarks’ time with the Gigspanner Big Band has been well spent and it’s equally clear to see what they have drawn from one of the country’s finest improvisers. You can’t just make it up as you go along as this excellent album proves.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.edgelarks.co.uk.

‘Bird In A Cage’ – live: