THE KIMBERLEYS – The Shape Of A Year (Popla Disque)

The Shape Of A YearSix years ago we reviewed the first album by The Kimberleys and I must confess that I’d forgotten about them until a week or so ago when their name cropped up twice. I therefore acquired a copy of their second album, The Shape Of A Year. Isobel and Jim Kimberley from Blackheath are veterans of the business having performed in numerous line-ups before settling down as themselves. Both are singing multi-instrumentalists so do most of the work with a little support from producer Simon Edwards and backing vocals by Ginny Clee.

The material is mostly traditional – and when it isn’t it sounds like it should be – and mostly old favourites, which makes The Shape Of A Year very comfortable listening. They begin with ‘Here’s The Tender Coming’ which starts out gently and builds up as the import of the song becomes clear. The second track, ‘High Germany’, follows a similar pattern and because of that I picked out a couple of lines that I hadn’t really noticed before.

The first not-actually-traditional song is Matt McGinn’s ‘Rolling Hills Of The Borders’ which sounds so authentic that I tried to find out if McGinn had borrowed the tune, without success I may add. The sound of The Kimberleys is characterised by ringing guitars, a plangent sound on ‘Rolling Hills Of The Borders’ and more forceful on ‘The Begging Song’ which is paired with ‘Strong Anna’, an instrumental written by Isobel. Another little trick they have is to set a song over the “wrong” rhythm so ‘The Begging Song’ has a slow underlying beat while ‘Sweet Thames Flow Softly’ has an up-tempo backing played on ukulele. A friend of mine once criticised a performance of this song as being by “a light Irish tenor” which is how I tend to visualise it. Adding Jim’s bodhran and other percussion towards the end emphasies the disjoint even though the song doesn’t end well for the ardent suitor.

‘Nay Nay Ivy’ may well be a precursor to ‘Holly And The Ivy’ although Jim is responsible for an excellent modern setting crossing seven centuries while ‘Spencer The Rover’ needs no explanation and is blessed with an accompaniment that could almost be described as “pretty”. ‘The Bells Of Paradise’ is another early Christmas carol which isn’t heard that much these days.

‘My Faithfull Johnny’ began life as a poem by Anne Grant with music by the great Ludwig van Beethoven but we must thank Johnny Handle for reintroducing it to the folk canon. ‘The Shepherds Song’ is best known via the Copper family while the closing ‘Hard Times Of Old England’ has passed through many hands over the years.

Isobel and Jim don’t do anything too outré with their songs while at the same time adding their own musical ideas. They also go in for a bit of gender fluidity with Isabel taking the lead vocal on ‘Sweet Thames’ while Jim sings ‘Faithfull Johnny’ so even if you think you know a song inside out you’ll find something here to make you think again.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

‘Sweet Thames Flow Softly’ – official video:

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