RUSTY SHACKLE – The Raven, The Thief & The Hangman (Get Folked Records)

The Raven, The Thief & The HangmanRusty Shackle are a vibrant and energetic five piece folk-rock band from South Wales who I had the pleasure to see perform on the main stage at BunkFest, Wallingford in 2018. They have previously released three studio albums and one live album. The Raven, The Thief & The Hangman is the result of two years researching folk music and stories then writing their brand of music to provide an exciting setting for the olde worlde words.

The first track ‘Hanging Johnny’ sets the tone of the album, it’s a bit of a foot stomping tub thumping experience. ‘Sam Hall’ follows in the same manner and ‘Newport Rising’ is an anthem song. ‘Long John’ is a bit slower, but still has a bit of oomph. ‘The Holy Ground’ is more gentile with mainly an acoustic guitar accompaniment that gives you a bit of a breather.

If there is a song that feels a bit out of place it is ‘Coorie Doon’ with its piano that sounds like it’s come out of a Western and Pogue-esque growly voice, I was half expecting Kirsty MacColl to come in over the top with some jolly vocals, but she doesn’t.

‘The Raven’s Song’ takes us to a much more boppy place with hand claps and pipes and clever overlapping vocals. ‘St James Infirmary’ brings us back on track and if Kasabian had a banjo in their line up this is what they’d sound like! The final track ‘Time Of Death’ also sounds Kasabian-ish and is another track with a great beat and is a great way to close the album.

I’m looking forward to seeing them live again in a few weeks in Witney.

Duncan Chappell

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‘Sam Hall’ – official video of the first single:

YOU ARE WOLF – Keld (Firecrest Records, FC001P)

KeldDiving down from the avian themes of You Are Wolf’s first album, Hawk To The Hunting Gone, Keld is a set of songs of water, specifically the mysticism of freshwater inland waterways. The word “keld” means “the deep, still, smooth part of a river” – somewhere to swim, to chant spells, to drown, to murder.

You Are Wolf is one among Kerry Andrew’s many projects as a prolific writer and musician. Here, she partners with multi-instrumentalist Sam Hall (whose cello playing is gorgeous) and percussionist Peter Ashwell to bring an alt-folk take on some traditional songs and to push the boundaries with their original material. The songs focus on building up complex rhythmic sequences from multiple layers of instruments and voice.

The traditional songs are delivered fairly straight in Andrew’s clean, clear vocal. Arrangements are rhythmically rich and suitably sympathetic, with the running water and hand percussion beneath the a cappella vocal of ‘The Baffled Knight’, followed by the metallic clinking and sultry cello of ‘As Sylvie Was Walking’ making for a very enticing start.

At track three, there was a sudden parting of the ways. ‘Breathe In, Breathe Out’ is a bafflingly over-stuffed incantation, a mantra-fuelled distillation of urban yoga workshop. Perhaps there’s just a bit too much sonic distraction going on in this one. ‘George Collins’ and ‘Down In The Willow Garden’ which follow, are sweet and simple relief, by contrast.

Generally, though, it’s on the original songs that the band members really get a chance to stretch themselves. ‘Dragonfly’ moves from a sinister rattlesnake shake to African Pygmy singing in a rather Kate Bush-like way. There’s a fine coda to ‘If Boys Could Swim’ where, over a darkly scraping cello, the central phrase is chopped up, eventually reduced to a mere two words “girls, boys” which, despite suddenly calling a well-known Blur song to mind, is highly accomplished and considered in terms of how it’s achieved.

In another take, ‘Drowndown’ plays around with the phrase “Do not go down to the water’s edge”, until it becomes a stumbling, aphasic repetition, any sense of the words subsumed into the rhythm. As well as a strong influence of minimalism, there’s more than an echo of P J Harvey’s “Down By The Water” hereabouts. Except that where Harvey is visceral, You Are Wolf are cerebral. What this means – for this listener at least, please do listen and form your own view – is that it’s entirely possible to appreciate the composition and musical skill on a coolly intellectual level, without ever being troubled by the hot, primal tug of emotional connection.

Su O’Brien

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‘As Sylvie Was Walking’ – official video:

You Are Wolf announces her second album

You Are Wolf
Photograph by Dannie Price

You Are Wolf is the alt-folk project of award-winning composer and vocalist Kerry Andrew. Releasing her second album Keld in March, it is the follow-up to her 2014 debut Hawk To The Hunting Gone, a record that explored British birds and folklore. Now working as a trio with multi-instrumentalist Sam Hall and percussionist Peter Ashwell, Keld – an old Northern English word meaning “the deep, still, smooth part of a river” – is an album that explores and develops the theme of freshwater. Wild swimming is a key passion and inspiration of hers, and she can often be found dipping into lochs, lakes, rivers and the sea in all weathers. Though there are countless traditional songs about the sea, there are less about our inland waterways, and Kerry decided to use this as a challenge: to source traditional material and write originals all inspired by freshwater folklore.

It was an aim of Kerry’s to find songs that featured an array of strong female characters, and Keld includes traditional songs about waterfall banshees, killer female water sprites, drowning boys and powerful witches. Original songs are inspired by wild swimming, vengeful rivers, nymphs and naiads, and even an Anglo-Saxon charm. You Are Wolf brings these ancient songs and stories into the present, with bold arrangements inspired by leftfield pop, new classical music and electronica.

The album is produced by MaJiker, best known for his work on French alt-pop queen Camille’s Victoire-winning albums. He has also remixed / worked with Fever Ray, Nitin Sahwney and Gaggle, and brings an experimental pop sensibility to the album. Where Hawk To The Hunting Gone was heavily vocal, with lots of vocal looping – inspired by the likes of Camille, Bobby Mcferrin, Meredith Monk and tUnE-yArDs – Keld is more expansive. With a wider palate of sounds including drums, ‘cello, vibraphone, trumpet, found sounds and field recordings, it’s an album that not only draws from innovative contemporary folk artists including Lisa Knapp (who features here on “The Weeper”), Sam Lee and The Unthanks, but also by music outside the folk sphere: everything from minimalist composer Steve Reich to PJ Harvey, traditional Central African Pygmy music and Julia Holter. The brilliant poet Robin Robertson also appears.

You Are Wolf is a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb and performed her debut short story with music on BBC Radio 4’s Stories From Songwriters series. Elsewhere, as Kerry Andrew, she is a composer of experimental vocal music and choral music, has a PhD in Composition and is the winner of four British Composer Awards. Kerry has written for The Guardian and is an occasional presenter on BBC Radio 3. Her debut novel, Swansong, based on a folk ballad, is published by Jonathan Cape on January 25th 2018. The novel has been praised by Robert Macfarlane as “spiky, strange and contemporary, but always with a dark undertow of myth and folklore tugging at its telling” and by folk legend Shirley Collins as “a subtle, supernatural tale told in a present-day voice.”

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‘All Things Are Quite Silent’ – live: