For her tenth album Bella Hardy has returned to her beginnings. Love Songs is a mix of traditional songs and her own compositions beginning with ‘Summer Daylight Winter Darkness’ – her rather plaintive fiddle over Tom Gibbs piano. ‘Hares On The Mountain’ introduces her other musical collaborator, producer Mike Vass playing guitar. Bella’s arrangement is unusually… I have to say plaintive again. We often hear it performed as a light, almost trivial, song but Bella imbues it with something deeper.
It makes me feel old when I read that the source of a song was Steeleye Span but that is the case with ‘My Johnny Was A Shoemaker’. Things get rather more lively now but this is no attempt at a copy as the singer dreams of her seafaring lover rising to the rank of captain and returning to marry her. Mike Vass’ dynamic guitar introduces ‘Sprig Of Thyme’. This is the version collected by Percy Grainger from Joseph Taylor and Taylor was no blushing maiden so Bella gives it a rural robustness, an unexpected treatment.
The centrepiece of Love Songs comprises two of Bella’s original songs both with historical connections. The first is ‘The Navigator’s Bride’, set in the late 19th century when 500 navvies descended on Edale to dig the Cowburn railway tunnel which, incidentally, is still in use. The song tells of a local girl who marries one of the navies but the story is topped and tailed by a portent of disaster. The song is based around Tom Gibbs’ piano and graced with a mighty clarinet solo. Only Bella knows if there is a happy ending. The second is ‘I Think Of You’ set in the Great War and based in Doncaster.
Then we return to traditional songs beginning with ‘Greenwood Laddie’, accompanied on guitar and fiddle, followed by ‘Awake Awake’ with Gibbs’ clarinet once more, some way distant from Joan Baez’s ‘Silver Dagger’ and an unaccompanied ‘Lowlands Away’ with Bella’s precise diction attracting attention. ‘Silverlight’, co-written with Joel Cadbury is one of her rich love songs – what else? Finally, ‘Loving Hannah’ is the story of a man slighted – I’m always amused by the description of Hannah as “quite good-looking” – was she not quite the catch we were led to believe?
Love Songs is Bella Hardy at her best. The songs, some of which she has known for ever, are forefront and even the more dramatic accompaniments are finely judged. I like simplicity in traditional music and this is just to my taste.
Artist’s website: www.bellahardy.com
‘Sprig Of Thyme’ – the single: