Bella Gaffney has risen almost imperceptibly but purposefully through the ranks of British folk music. Playing guitar, banjo and double bass she appears solo, as a duo with Dan Webster and as a member of The Magpies … there she is. Her new album is called Reflections – it’s at least her second solo work but she has enjoyed so many collaborations in the past that I can’t be sure. Some of those collaborators are supporting her here: Daniel Webster, Leesa Ghentz and Sam Kelly plus Emily Lawler, Holly Brandon, Rachel Brown and Mark Waters.
Most of the album was written by Bella with two traditional songs, one cover and two adaptations. She begins in her Anglo-Americana style with ‘Black Water’, her guitar and banjo complemented by Lawler’s fiddle. It’s a simple and tasteful homage to her native county and eases us into the album very nicely. Brandon takes over fiddle duties alongside Brown’s cello and Ghentz joins in on vocals for ‘Blood In The Earth’, a song about climate change. The combination of voices is very rich. ‘Going Through The Motions’ is the lament of the travelling musician – “there’s nowhere in this country that I ain’t been before” – and name-checks paracetamol in passing. Pauliina Kauppila adds all kinds of percussion over Waters’ electric bass for a shuffling rhythm.
The first adaptation is Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Holy Island’ decorated by whistle and, for some reason, Estonian bagpipes. Bella basically uses the first verse and throws in a bit of Macbeth in passing. ‘Seven Black Roses’ is heavily adapted from the John Martyn song with Bella adding extra words to Martyn’s single verse. Like Martyn, Bella treats it as an excuse for a guitar workout and she tackles it very well with Brown’s cello underpinning the piece. After ‘Wide Awake’ comes her most recent single, ‘Blue’, a tribute to Joni Mitchell and captures something of Joni’s vocal style.
‘Fair And Tender Ladies’ is a collaboration with Sam Kelly and I was immediately struck by how well their voices work together – it’s a combination I’d like to hear more of. The cover is ‘No Ash Will Burn’ by Nashville songwriter Walt Aldridge. It’s about love that has died as far as I can tell and the title is one of those phrases that sound deep and profound until you actually think about them.
Finally, Bella closes with a live, foot-stomping version of ‘Gallows Pole’, originally by Leadbelly lest we forget and clearly she relishes the opportunity to let her hair down on this one. Despite my feelings about albums called Reflections – there are far too many of them and the title should be reserved for proper retrospectives – I like Bella Gaffney’s record and I think you will, too.
Artist’s website: www.bellagaffneymusic.com
‘Blood In The Earth’ – live: