HARBOTTLE & JONAS – Saving The Good Stuff Vol 1 (Brook View Records BVR003)

Saving The Good Stuff Vol 1In 2019, the Devon duo took to live streaming, performing, under a title inspired by a Richard Thompson song, a series of covers, one a week, either traditional numbers or songs by artists they admired. Then along came lockdown and they upped it to two songs a week. Since the project began they’ve uploaded some 150 videos and, for Saving The Good Stuff Vol 1, have recorded eight particular fan favourites with the added collaboration of Richard Trethewey on fiddle and harmonies, Freya’s mother Jenny on oboe with Andy Tyner’s trumpet and flugelhorn and Claire Sutton on cello.

Freya on vocals, it kicks off with one of the most recorded traditional songs, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, bringing an aching yearning to their simple, subtle but effective strings-accompanied arrangement. Opening with fiddle and shimmering guitar lines, Dave on lead, that’s followed by ‘Water’, a song written by Ben Blance from Jukebox Gypsy and apart of the couple’s repertoire from their early days, and again suffused with a sense of longing as it swells like the tides.

Two further traditional-based numbers are up next, first, fingerpicked in minstrel style, ‘Now The Green Blade Riseth’, an early 20th century hymn about the Resurrection written by John Macleod Campbell Crum and once a staple at funerals, the version here, sung in harmony with Dave prominent on the verses, emphasising the theme of faith through hardship with a medieval courtly arrangement. Another staple of their live set, written in the 1930s by Hugh Robertson and set to a traditional Gaelic tune, accompanied by strummed guitar and fiddle ‘Mingulay Boat Song’ has a slow shanty sway as Freya sings in the voice of fisherman returning home from the sea.

They shift to more contemporary material with Freya singing the strummed title track from Natalie Merchant’s Motherland album, a slow swaying, cello-coloured reflective love song to lament for America, then, taking to her piano, she strips back Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ to a stark and raw traditional folk rendition with cello and Dave’s reverse analogue pedals adding to the atmosphere.

Using drum samples recorded in St.Kew church, the penultimate choice is Freya’s jaunty take on the reflective but triumphant ‘Our Town’, perhaps Iris DeMent’s best known and most covered song, things closing, Freya again on lead, with a five-minute return to the West Country for another (slightly Celtic-flavoured) shanty, Harry Glasson’s ‘Cornwall My Home’, a lovely signing off that leaves you hoping Vol 2 won’t be too far down the line.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.harbottleandjonas.com

‘Mingulay Boat Song’ – live: