Strange News, TRADArrr’s third album, once again finds the septet’s assembled members taking traditional folk songs by the scruff of the neck and giving them a good shaking. They kick off with Marion Fleetwood’s arrangement of ‘Rose Of Allendale’, a number sought out that pointedly didn’t include a murder, shipwreck, abandoned lover, cross-dressing or a hanging. Credited to Charles Jeffreys sometime in the 1840s and, as the title clearly illustrates, set in Northumbria, the enduring, supportive love lyrics are sourced from versions by Mary Black and The Dubliners and given a full-on folk tumbling melody pop tune by Fleetwood, complete with some rousing brass from PJ Wright and Mark Stevens.
The pace and mood switch strikingly as, Gregg Cave taking lead, puttering hand percussion and lively fiddle introduce Wright and Stevens’s lope-along drums bolstered spin on ‘The Barley Straw’, returning to more familiar folk ballad tropes of some noble squire disguising himself as a tinker and relieving an innocent farmer’s lass of her maidenhood and leaving her pregnant. And from farmer’s daughter, Cave again on vocals, they proceed to ‘A Country Farmer’s Son’, a number of uncertain origin about being at ease with your lot, Mark Stevens giving it a heads down rock and riff arrangement a la Free’s ‘All Right Now’ complete with a slide guitar solo from Wright and Mike Stevens on baritone sax,
It’s to another Stevens arrangement Strange News turns next, his flugelhorn into setting the courtly troubadour backdrop for Fleetwood’s vocals and violin on ‘Lovers’ Lament’, Gemma Shirley harmonising on an amalgam of lyrics taken from ‘The Loyal Lover’ dating back to, at least, 1893, the line “I love my love, because my love loves me” also providing the refrain for ‘A Maid In Bedlam’ dating from over a century earlier.
Guy Fletcher’s contribution to the material is ‘Mary Of The Silvery Tide’. Collected in Gloucestershire by Percy Grainger in 1908, a poem of unknown authorship, it provides the obligatory tale of murder when Mary’s drowned by lusting nobleman after refusing to cheat on her absent lover, he finding her corpse clutching a handkerchief with her murderer’s name upon it. Fletcher, who sings lead, gives it an irregular staccato time signature, producer Mark Stevens shaping the original My Morning Jacket space rock aspirations into a more Scott Walker feel with soaring choral harmonies, synth, sax, trumpet, organ, violin and cello.
It’s back to more direct folk rock for ‘Shore To Shore’, basically a complete true love forever rewrite by Cave of 18th-century folk ballad ‘Fare Thee Well’, he and Mark Stevens giving it a punchy arrangement with hints of Fleetwood Mac. Then, Fletcher’s other half, relative folk novice Shirley, weighs in with her pennyworth for ‘The Blacksmith’ (another unfaithful lover number, the lyric providing the album title), her mother-in-law’s showpiece, collected by Vaughn Williams in 1909 and here initially given a light Renaissance minstrel feel before drums and electric guitar steer it more into a Pink Floyd direction, with added congas.
Set to music by Cave with Fletcher on violin, Fleetwood on harmonies and with some rousing electric guitar, the drums-driven march beat rhythm ‘Mary Neal’ is one of the later rural poems by John Clare, actually simply titled ‘Song’, with a new refrain added. Coincidentally and fittingly for the album, Mary Neal was also the name of the Birmingham-born women’s rights activist who, along with Cecil Sharp, pioneered the Folk Dance Movement in the early 1900s.
A duet between Fleetwood and Mark Stevens, ‘Cold Blows The Wind’ is a variation on ‘The Unquiet Grave’ featuring Wright’s tremolo guitar along, the original upbeat melody familiar from versions by the likes of Bellowhead here recast with a new tune of a slower, more sombre tone and an epic sound of mandola, trumpet, tympani and the final wheezing and toll of a bell.
Cave’s final arrangement is a strummed slow swayalong adaptation of a Warwickshire folk song, ‘The Mare And The Foal’, a variant on ‘The Topman And The Afterguard’ about being ripped off and cheated by millers, tailors and butchers to which he adds a final verse adding politicians to the list, the instrumentation featuring Wright on slide and pedal steel, Fletcher’s mandolin and Fleetwood’s violin.
Strange News ends, then, with one more Wright and Stevens contribution, the nigh six-minute ‘Staunton Whale’, collected by A L Lloyd as ‘Whaling in Greenland’, opening with combined unaccompanied voices before Wright takes charge, drums laying down the crunchy marching beat as it relates how the crew fail to catch their prey, forced to return home as winter sets in, Simon Care joining the line up on melodeon and Fleetwood, Cave, Shirley and Fletcher all on violin for the extended instrumental close giving to a sprightly jig.
On the website notes, bassist Brendan O’Neill recommends it listened to with a healthy bit of volume and a strong cup of tea! Indeed, you won’t need stronger drink, the music is already 100% proof.
Artists’ website: www.tradarrr.com
‘Rose Of Allendale’ – lockdown live: