BANTER – Heroes (Mrs Casey Records MCFCD4202)

HeroesThe album so named as it pays tribute to their musical heroes, this is the fourth from the acoustic four piece of keyboardist singer Nina Zella, Mark Jolley on bass guitar, fiddle and guitar, drummer and caller Tim Walker and Simon Care on melodeon, a cocktail of covers, traditional numbers and original material.

They open with a rousing take on Zella’s arrangement of the traditional ‘The Oak And The Ash’, incorporating the tune ‘Cock O’ The North’, sometimes known as ‘The North Country Maid’, the chorus having the narrator, far from home, celebrating the native trees, though despite what the chorus may proclaim, the ivy is a climber not a tree. That’s followed by her self-penned ‘Picking A Ship”, not as the title and lyrics suggest, about piracy and murder but rather of mob mentality and dispensing ‘justice’ on the basis of just one side of the story.

The first cover of a folk hero and an album highlight is Pete Coe’s Pennine Way celebration ‘Rolling Down The Ryburn’, albeit minus two of the verses (two less than when the first started singing it), followed by a melodeon, drums and fiddle romp through two instrumentals, ‘Seneca Square/Soldiers Joy’, before Zella’s melancholic new musical setting of the Thomas Moore poem ‘The Last Rose Of Summer’, her voice and Jolley’s fiddle soaring on the refrain. She brings another new setting to the traditional ‘The Lass Of Richmond Hill’, musically recast in a cascading Christmassy wassail mode, as she does indeed to the subsequent two tracks. The first being a spare piano accompanied ‘Below Below’ in which the crew of a sailing ship foresee their doom after sighting a mermaid, the sober rendition of the “the landlubbers lying down below” refrain a far cry from the familiar shanty stomp. The second completing the traditional trio is the somewhat unseasonal festive ‘Eve Of New Year Merry’, a brass band and bells arrangement of the 19th century Welsh variant of ‘Deck The Halls’.

Perhaps one of the lesser known heroes is Canadian-based but Scottish-born folk singer-songwriter David Francey, their choice of cover, initially sung unaccompanied by Walker before fiddle arrives, is ‘Torn Screen Door’, his song about a farm house now abandoned after foreclosure by the bank. A far better-known name is John Tams, their fan flag raised here in the form of the slow stately sung and brass warmed ‘Lay Me Low’, based on a Shaker psalm and originally recorded by The Albion Band in 1978. It’s sandwiched by the two remaining instrumentals, the concertina-driven and Walker’s trumpet flourish traditional dance tune ‘Morgan Rattler’ and, to close, a mostly solo spot from Care on ‘Jake’s Jig’, a tribute to its writer Gareth Turner and featured on the band’s 2017 debut, albeit at almost five minutes longer than here. Like the Cadbury’s selection box of the same name, this is full of tempting treats just waiting to be unwrapped.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘The Oak And The Ash’ – official video: