BEN WALKER – Echo (Folk Room FRR1902)

EchoBen Walker is known as a guitarist, composer, arranger and producer but he is neither a lyricist nor a singer. For his debut solo album it would have been easy to re-run his first EP by recording a set of instrumentals and, to judge from the examples included here, it would have been very good. But it would not have been the statement that Echo is. Ben has gathered lyrics from a number of sources and recruited musicians and singers to perform with him and the result is stunning from start to finish.

The opening track is a sparkling instrumental, ‘Afon’, and if you didn’t look at the sleeve you’d be expecting more of the same. The piece ends with an almost triumphal chord and everything changes. Next is a song from William Blake’s Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience sung by Thom Ashworth and the tune that Ben has given to ‘The Ecchoing Green’ sounds perfectly traditional. ‘Ha’nacker Mill’, sung by Laura Hockenhull, was written by Hilaire Belloc and comes from Bob Copper’s archives. I’d never heard it before. ‘Rings’ is essentially an instrumental led by Basia Bartz and Anna Jenkins but it starts with a snippet of an archive recording of George ‘Pop’ Maynard. It’s not quite what Chumbawamba did on Readymades but it tips its hat in that direction.

Hazel Askew sings ‘Let Me In At The Door’, in fact a mysterious poem called ‘The Witch’ by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. I can’t help but think that it’s an example of no good deed going unpunished but I’ll leave you to decide for yourselves. The song is enhanced by a moody, unsettling accompaniment which continues via Jo Silverston’s cello into ‘Cross Fell’. ‘On Humber Bank’ comes from a broadside ballad. Sung by Laura Ward, its accompaniment seems to reflect the sound of a heavy engine although that may be anachronistic. Jinnwoo sings another broadside, ‘How Stands The Glass Around’, which has an interesting history beyond the scope of this review and Bella Hardy takes the lead on ‘The Island’ from a poem by Dorothy Wordsworth. I’m sorry but I’m afraid that you must look this one up, too – it’s rather too metaphysical for me to explain. Then we return to Blake in the company of Kitty Macfarlane for ‘Nurses’ Songs’ before Echo closes with a final instrumental, ‘Eostre’ for which Ben is joined by Katherine Price’s oboe and Laura Ward’s flute.

The recording is immaculate, as you expect, with Ben mixing field recordings with his music to produce haunting, atmospheric tracks. There is more to Echo than that, though. The songs and poetry are deeply thought-provoking and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a good deal of time reading about them.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.benwalkermusic.com

‘Rings’ – official video:

THOM ASHWORTH – Head Canon (own label)

Head CanonHaving released his second EP, The Hollow, at the tail end of 2017, the Hampshire-born, East London-based folkie now goes the whole hog with a full album, funded by the EFDSS, that, featuring violin and soprano sax, embraces traditional and self-penned material as well as an obscure Ewan McColl cover.

Taking the former first, he opens with the lead track from the last EP, ‘High Germany’, immediately highlighting, for those who’ve not heard him before, his use of acoustic bass guitar, heavy drums providing the spine as the number rumbles through your bones. Second from the list comes the slow march rhythm of ‘Poverty Knock’, his dark tenor backed by his echoing bass, then, featuring Ellie Wilson on scraping fiddle, comes ‘Ratcliffe Highway’, the tale of a sailor falling prey to a gin shop scam in the London thoroughfare, but winding up quids in when he makes off with a gold watch. It’s directly followed by the tumbling drums and fiddle intro to ‘Derry Goal’, Ashworth’s arrangement, delivery and vocal summoning thoughts of Richard Thompson.

The last two traditional numbers strike a distinct contrast, balancing the fragility and sorrow of ‘The Snow It Melts The Soonest’, initially sung unaccompanied before introducing minimalist bass notes, with a swig and swagger through ‘John Barleycorn’ that would do justice to an early Fairport album.

With the MacColl choice being the brief 30-second reading of his a capella radio ballad ‘Exile (Just a Note)’ about the homesickness of the Irish labourers who came to build the M1, the remaining four are all Ashworth originals. First up is the staccato rhythm ‘Pathfinding’ with its hints of John Martyn and lyrics about the failure of industrial action “victory for the company man” and the call for power in a union.

Structured around muted drums and fiddle, the slow funeral march paced ‘Looking To Windward’ is the album’s longest number with its references to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a “carol for the margins” about how standing by and doing nothing is a form of tacit approval. Backed by repeated nervy, plucked fiddle notes, ‘Crossing The Water’ (where he vocally reminds me of Pete Atkin) is a chilly number that treats on fear, anxiety (“I worry that night will fall and all that I’ve built will be gone”) and endurance (“If no man is an island then keep me afloat/And tie me to the mast, I’ll pilot these straits”), the lyrics again indicating his literary influences

It ends with the resonant, sparse guitar notes of ‘The City And The Tower’, a number which may or may not be informed by Brexit with its lines about marching into hell, burning bridges and pulling up the ladders in a staged retreat into isolationism, referencing the historical Beeching cuts to the railways and, surely a reference to Europe, the fall of Babel, the biblical city of many tongues.

His early releases always crackled with the promise that Ashworth’s debut album was going to prove something special. The promise is fulfilled.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.thomashworth.com

‘Work Life Out To Keep Life In’ – live:

 

SINGLES BAR 17

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 17Having released their latest album, Good Times Will Come Again last year, MEGSON now lift the lead track, ‘Generation Rent’ (EDJ), as a single. A punchy protest against how today’s young generation find it impossible to get on to the property ladder, it comes as both album version and radio mix. Sandwiched in-between, there’s Morning Mist, a traditional-flavoured ballad that spotlights Debbie Hanna’s vocals, Stu providing harmony, set to a minimal acoustic guitar, and a live recording of Stu’s near six minute The Longshot, a football-themed song that celebrates striving against the odds rather than giving up, because when. there’s no hope, “ a longshot is better than none”.
http://www.megsonmusic.co.uk/

Barbara DicksonAs a prelude to her spring tour with Troy Donockley BARBARA DICKSON releases an EP of Five Songs. The opening track is the traditional ‘Palace Grand’ – although it goes by several titles – accompanied initially by piano and acoustic guitar until the strings sweep in. Next is ‘Farewell To Fiunary’ starts with bodhran and drone building via multi-tracked vocals to a magnificent finish in which you can almost hear the creaking of oars on the Sound Of Mull. ‘The Hill’ is a Dickson/Donockley original with another lush arrangement while ‘The Laird Of The Dainty Dounby’ is an all-too familiar tale of the villainy of the aristocracy. Finally we have Robin Williamson’s ‘October Song’, a nicely thoughtful setting that honours the original and boasts a pipe solo from Donockley.
http://www.barbaradickson.net/

Singles Bar 17Born in Hampshire but based in East London, THOM ASHWORTH deals in the British folk tradition, his a stripped down approach played on bass. His self-released debut EP, Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture (available as a download from his website or as a limited edition CD) offers four examples of his work. Two traditional numbers load the front end with a sonorous reading of ‘Tyne Of Harrow’ and a moody drone-like treatment of familiar folk chestnut ‘Lord Bateman’. Not strictly traditional, the EP ends in striking style with a dark, minimal and spooked version of Sidney Carter’s ominous anti-war protest song ‘Crow On The Cradle’, the percussive heavy self-penned title track initially striking a kindred note, Named after a computer game apparently, it started out with a left over verse from a track on Interregum, the Marillion-like swansong album by Ashworth’s former band, Our Lost Infantry, and grew into a comment on how technology is taking away today’s livelihoods, as it did the weavers and miners before. A name to watch.
http://thomashworth.com/

Whitney RoseWHITNEY ROSE may come from Canada, but her South Texas Suite (Six Shooter) EP celebrates her recent two month residency at Austin’s Continental Club with six songs of a Lone Star persuasion. It opens south of the border with the gorgeous Three Minute Love Affair, the sort of timeless Texicana ballad you could imagine either Marty Robbins or the Mavericks (Raul Malo produced 2016’s Heartbreak Of The Year album) doing. Four of the other tracks are also self-penned, ‘My Boots’ a playful twangy guitar Loretta Lynn-like tribute to her footwear, the steel-streaked ‘Bluebonnets For My Baby’ harking more to 60s doowop balladry, the reflective mid-tempo swayer ‘Looking Back On Luckenbach’ sounding pretty much as you might imagine from the title (Waylon’s spirit presumably hovering over the recording session) and the brief – and a touch pointless – guitars, steel, fiddle and honky tonk piano instrumental closer ‘How ‘Bout A Hand For The Band’,. The remaining number finds her in a laid back swing mood for a cover of Brennen Leigh’s ode to good old retro technology, ‘Analog’. She’s touring here in May and, on the evidence here, will be well worth catching.
http://whitneyrosemusic.com

Runaway HorseAnd while we’re musically in Austin, RUNAWAY HORSE are a trio from the same fronted by the breathily voiced Mari Tirsa, accompanied by guitarist Daniel Barrett with Rick Richards on drums. Their self-released five-track EP, Beautiful Blue, harks to cosmic Americana with songs rooted in the landscape her New Mexico raising. It’s all fairly sedate and dreamy (though closer ‘Arrive’ has a persistent percussive one foot marching beat underpinning its tinkling starry skies feel), with both opener Holy Water and the title having a gentle, hymnal quality. They’re a little bluesier on the five minute plus ‘The Well’ (the Fleetwood Mac to the Cowboy Junkies elsewhere) while the ticking rhythm of the slowly swelling ‘Once’ sees Tirsa stretching her keyboard wings to fine effect.
http://runawayhorseband.com/

VARIOUS GUISES are the duo of Blanche Ellis and Maya McCourt and Tide Take Him marks their recording debut. They mix acapella vocals with guitar and cello and a little assistance from Tom Hyatt’s piano and vocalist Dana Immanuel. The title track is a reworking of ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ so that it’s no longer a shanty and instead is sung with a syncopated rhythm or slowed to a funereal pace. Tackling a song as hackneyed as this is always a risk but Various Guises really do something with it. With one more exception the songs are original ending with ‘The Sound And The Fury’ and the traditional ‘Bedlam Boys’ both of which are nicely nuts.

Thom Ashworth announces debut EP

Thom Ashworth

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is the debut EP by English folksinger and bassist Thom Ashworth. Thom hails from Hampshire, but calls London home.

Thom’s is a stripped back approach to British traditional music, played on his ‘home’ instrument – bass. The unique sonic palette of this release brings instruments usually seen in a supportive role to the fore, teamed with restrained percussion, and Thom’s powerful tenor voice.

His previous work couldn’t have been further from the folk world – Thom cut his teeth playing hardcore and emo, going on to play in Deep Elm Records post rock/prog act Our Lost Infantry and many headed indie rock behemoth Revere – which belies a childhood spent in at festivals and pub sessions, listening to Fairport Convention, Show Of Hands, and Waterson:Carthy.

Thom has a growing reputation as a live performer, and made his solo debut last year opening for Dublin folk miscreants Lankum (formerly known as Lynched).

TRACKLISTING

  1. Tyne Of Harrow (trad arr. Ashworth)
  2. Lord Bateman (trad arr. Ashworth)
  3. Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture (Ashworth)
  4. Crow On The Cradle (Sydney Carter arr. Ashworth)

Thom’s blog gives some thoughts on his song choices and writing inspiration, ranging from T S Eliot to computer games, to a young man turning to crime to support himself.

Artist’s website: www.thomashworth.com

Listen to ‘Tyne Of Harrow’: