Wayward Jane are a quartet from Edinburgh who play old-timey and Americana as though they were born to it. In fact, Michael Starkey has lived and worked in the Appalachians and it is his distinctive banjo style that gives the music a real authenticity. The second lead instrument is Rachel Walker’s fiddle and they are frequently heard playing off against each other. On top we have Sam Gillespie’s flute, whistle and guitar and underneath there is Daniel Abrahams’ double bass or guitar. All four sing and share lead vocals. Old Train is their second album, following their eponymous debut.
The album opens with the traditional ‘Hills Of Mexico’ and you can almost hear the tumbleweed rolling across the desert. Rachel’s fiddle throbs underneath with Michael’s banjo decorating the song until he steps back and lets her take over. It’s so tempting to just put the track on loop. ‘County Farm’ is up next, a long track beginning with a jaunty melody. You wait for a change, then wonder it they can keep it up for eight-and-a-half minutes. At the point when you decide that they will do just that the change comes and they break into a version of Son House’s ‘County Farm Blues’ before returning to the original tune. It’s inspired.
‘Old Train’ is the first of the band’s own compositions and it sounds more Scottish than American, which is a nice change of pace. They don’t really betray their nationality although Rachel’s Scots accent adds a special charm to I Draw Slow’s ‘Carolina’. The other contemporary cover is a languid reading of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings’ ‘Elvis Presley Blues’. I was expecting ‘Arkansas Traveller’ to be the dance tune but it isn’t and the first instrumental is the band’s own ‘Lyra’s Tune’ which immediately feels familiar.
The final track is another original, ‘Sheep In A Stubble Field’ which might have been composed to give everyone a feature. It begins with wordless vocals – not sure who that is – then Michael’s banjo, another wordless chorus with pizzicato fiddle followed by guitar. At this point, everyone is fed up with waiting around and the band sweeps in with the substantive melody.
Despite the obvious potential of banjo and fiddle for ripping and roaring, Old Train is actually an album to put your feet up to. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.
Artists’ website: www.waywardjane.com
‘September’ – live in the studio: