Before The Sun, Hannah and Ben’s debut album as a duo, caused a few ripples in folk circles. I predict that Awake will cause a real splash; from its remarkable cover design to the mix of songs it takes everything that its predecessor had and doubles it.
Hannah’s background as an anthropologist gives us the source of some of the songs. The opening ‘Selkie Song’ is their own composition and is, of course, a retelling of ‘The Great Silkie’ with a twist and ‘Reynardine’ reminds us that Hannah recorded ‘The Werewolf’ on her solo album, Charms Against Sorrow. The use of Tarot artwork in the booklet emphasises the mystical elements of the album but in one or two cases I really would prefer the words.
Like its predecessor Awake is very much a transatlantic album, again recorded in Toronto by David Travers-Smith. Although ‘Selkie Song’ might be thought of as a very British song, it is Chris Coole’s banjo that is the key sound. ‘I Met A Man’ is very much Hannah’s song – a pop ballad with acoustic guitar and pedal steel decoration – in which she finds her inner Kate Bush. Then comes a surprise. ‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ is Billy Bragg’s setting of Woody Guthrie’s words, not a typical Guthrie lyric at that, and Hannah and Ben treat it so delicately even as the accompaniment swells behind them. It’s partnered here by ‘Santa Fe Trail’, that oh-so-evocative depiction of the American west, and Pete Seeger’s lullaby ‘One Grain Of Sand’.
‘7’ utilises the children’s magpie rhyme as its chorus which brings us back to the mystical but it’s preceded by ‘Every Night When The Sun Goes In’, a guitar instrumental of beautiful simplicity and a definite American feel. ‘Reynardine’ rocks as hard it can with acoustic instruments with Hannah taking most of the lead vocal and Ben singing the part of the nocturnal rambler.
Awake is an album that will take a long time to get to the bottom of. You can easily enjoy it but sooner or later you’ll find yourself asking ‘what’s that?’ or ‘why did they do this?’. That’s what is really great about it, apart from ‘Santa Fe Trail’, of course.
Artists’ website: www.hannahbenmusic.com
‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ – official video: