It can be difficult to take a well-known traditional song and attempt to do something new with it. Those of us with long memories will recall that once upon a time you could be run out of town just for thinking about it. The Kimberleys do it seven times over – I’m counting ‘The Whitsun Dance’ as quasi-traditional here – and make a fine fist of it. Although veterans in the business, this is actually their debut album, and if I tell you that they have toured with the reformed Comus you may get the idea that they are not entirely mainstream.
They open the album with ‘Elsie Marley’ and I found it odd that Isobel Kimberley was singing “honey” when I was expecting “hinny”. I checked and Northumbrian Minstrelsy has “honey” so what do I know? The Kimberleys also sing seven of the eight verses, with a few amendments and the song is typical of their style. Isobel imposes her own meter on the tune over Jim Kimberley’s rolling guitar part with each line separated by four instrumental bars and meanwhile the chorus gets bigger and bigger. The verse they alter most is the one co-opted by ‘Byker Hill’.
‘Sally Gardens’ is sung by Jim over a shruti drone decorated by Isobel’s harp while ‘The Doffin Mistress/Broom Bezzums’ is only one step away from folk-rock. They use a lot of musical effects and found sounds, particularly on this track. ‘The Smart Schoolboy’ is a variant of ‘The False Knight On The Road’ as collected, I think, by John Jacob Niles and ‘Pleasant And Delightful’ and ‘Tam Lin’ are taken relatively straight over a rolling guitar building up to a big finish. I’m less taken with ‘The Whitsun Dance’. Isobel’s vocals are excellent, as they are throughout the album, and the harp and autoharp decorations add a sparkle but I find Jim’s guitar rather ponderous, which is odd because he’s capable of much more imaginative accompaniments than this. With that caveat, this is an intriguing debut.
Artists’ website: www.thekimberleys.org
‘Tam Lin’ – official video: