SERIOUS SAM BARRETT – Where The White Roses Grow (YaDig! Records YDoo7)

Where The White Roses GrowReturned to his native Leeds after a lengthy sojourn in America. Barrett doesn’t make it easy for you to discover him, having no website other than Facebook from which to elicit any background or biographical information, and the About page hasn’t been updated since his 2014 release. Suffice to say, the thumbnail sketch declares he mostly plays 12 string, that he mixes original and traditional material and draws on traditional British. Irish and American influences as well as 50s pop.

Apparently this is his ninth album and duly follows the above description, although the addition of banjo would seem to be something fairly new, the songs mostly rooted in in Yorkshire, vis a vis the Appalachian-styled bluegrassy title track (historians will recall the Wars of the Roses) which, aforementioned banjo providing the drive, harks back to his childhood.

Turning to the sprightly fingerpicked acoustic, ‘Last Of The Yorkshire Outlaws’ is musically cast in the rambling blues Guthrie tradition and takes its inspiration from musicians like himself playing shows to a handful of dedicated drinkers in the local bars. The title does, however, also link to the traditional banjo-plucked ‘Robin Hood and the 15 Foresters’, a Child ballad about the folk legend outlaw who, while forever associated with Nottingham, is claimed by many scholars to have actually come from Sheffield.

It’s one of only three traditional numbers, the others being the guitar waltzing ‘Waters Of Tyne’ (Jamie Barrier on fiddle) and ‘Holmfirth Anthem’, learned, respectively from The Dransfields and the Watersons, the latter finding him dipping his toes into a capella waters for the first time, returning to the unaccompanied style (after the acoustic guitar intro) for the album’s closing number, ‘Darling Where You Are’, another rambling lyric about how, wherever he may roam, he always with his lover.

Continuing with the self-penned tracks, ‘Bonaparte’s Love Song’ is actually a banjo showcase instrumental, its mountain music shadings also to be heard on ‘I Don’t Need To Wait For Heaven’, an Appalachian-toned folk spiritual about finding contentment, and the sprightly ‘Everybody Needs A Helping Hand’ which, exactly what it says on the label, is about how the faces people present in public might hide problems that keep to themselves.

Back on guitar, the strummed ‘Tennessee Line’ with its slide echoes has a vague American shanty air, accentuated by presence of fiddle, the song a celebration of the “rednecks, hicks and such” who carve out an existence on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, and who’ve “always been the subject of sick people’s jokes”.

However, the album’s stand out is arguably ‘Bramhope Tunnel Monument’, another banjo-driven number (bringing together Yorkshire history and Appalachian music) with scurrying hand percussion commissioned in memory of the 24 workers who, between 1846 and 1849, died during the construction of the railway tunnel on the Harrogate line.

A gifted player and songwriter, Barrett clearly has a lot to say, both musically and lyrically, he just needs to be a little more proactive in getting people to hear it.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Where The White Roses Grow’ – official video: