For The Outlander, his seventh solo album, Moray dispenses with any original material to focus on a set of ten traditional numbers, some familiar, some obscure, and gives them his own personalised interpretation. He’s also adopted a more direct, live performance-based approach making extensive use of his purchase of a 1949 Epiphone Triumph archtop guitar and inviting an array of fellow folkies, among them Jack Rutter, Sam Sweeney, Matt Downer and Josienne Clarke, to join him in the studio.
With Rory Scammell on hurdy gurdy complementing Sweeney and Tom Moore’s urgent violins and Moray’s driving rhythm, the opening ‘Lord Ellenwater’ (sometimes ‘Derwentwater’), compiles the lyrics from an assortment of sources and is set to a tune collected in Cambridgeshire by Vaughan Williams in 1907 from (although some claim it as in 1905 from Emily Agnes Stears in Sussex) and concerns the alleged role of Ellenwater’s in the Jacobite uprising of 1715 and reports that the rivers on his estates ran blood on the night he was executed.
Learned from Roy Harris, ‘Bold Lovell’, a variant on highwayman ballad ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, is launched by handclaps (there’s no drums anywhere on the album) and proceeds at a fair trot, one again propelled by violins, but then, opening with just voice and Nick Hart’s concertina, things slow down for ‘When This Old Hat Was New’, a classic song of old folk nostalgia that traces back to 1630 and bigs up the Romans for looking after the poor folk as the instrumentation gradually builds.
The centrepiece, certainly in terms of running time, is ‘Lord Gregory’ which, extended to a waltzing six and a half minutes with addition of verses from alternate versions, is largely accompanied by just finger picked guitar, presented as a duet with Clarke in an Anglo emulation of the Welch/Rawling harmonies pairing albeit channelling the recordings by Maddy Prior and Kathryn Roberts. It’s followed by the almost as long ‘The Bramble Briar’, learned from the Ewan MacColl version of ‘Bruton Town’, a good old English folk ballad about murder that has its origins in Isabella and the Pot of Basil, a story about a farmer’s daughter, her jealous brothers and a beheaded lover in Boccaccio’s The Decameron. A spare, stark arrangement compounds the gloom of the narrative.
‘John Barleycorn’ is one of two folk club staples given a new lease of life by Moray taken at a suitably flagon-swigging mid-tempo, the other, which closes the album, being a stately, wearied pace and spare arrangement reading of ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’ that captures all of the song’s inherent resignation.
Betwixt these comes a slow strummed melancholic Appalachian-flavoured interpretation of ‘The Isle Of St Helena’, a song about Bonaparte’s exile collected by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky and learned from Steve Turner’s 1979 album Outstack, albeit without the concertina arrangement. Switching hemispheres, his fiddle-backed reading of transportation ballad ‘Australia’ owes a debt to Bob Hat’s 1973 version which relocated the destination from the original Virginny.
The final choice is ‘Jack Tar’, a handclap percussion, fiddle stomp take on the shanty about an opportunistic sailor overhearing a scheme by a squire to have his lover dangle string from her window so he can pull it for her to let him in, and naturally sneakily taking his place instead. Learned from the version collected by Sharp in 1904 with a slight variation in the lyrics, although, for purists, sadly he doesn’t include the “doomy-amma dingy-amma doomy-ammma day” chorus!
The most direct and simple of Moray’s albums to date, it cuts to the heart of what traditional folk music is about while ensuring a musical relevance for to the modern generation.
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‘Bold Lovell’ – live with Tom Moore: