Words by Grey Malkin
Now this is something very special indeed. A compilation of some of the main players in the current folk and wyrd/psych scenes curated by Diana Collier, whose name should be familiar to any aficionados of her previous band, the excellent The Owl Service. Put together in aid of Southend YMCA who work extensively with young homeless people (including in the area of music therapy), this album brings together some familiar names for a fine cause, many of whom have been through The Owl Service banner or associated with the band. Indeed the album’s cover photographs are provided by Steven Collins of said act. The YMCA also work with the renowned Leigh Folk festival of which Diana also plays a major role. So, a worthy endeavour but what of the contents within?
The album opens with Alex Rex (Trembling Bells drummer and leader Alex Neilson with Bells’ singer Lavinia Blackwall) and the heartrending ‘The Gift of Weeping’, a shimmering, reverbed beauty that recalls both the Everley Brothers and Chris Bell at their most gorgeously melancholic. This album would be worth it for this jewel alone, both timeless and seemingly effortless in its ability to bewitch and captivate. Next, Cunning Folk present ‘The Old Straight Track’, a gossamer delicate piece of finger picking, strings and harmonised vocals that follows on from where 2017’s essential ‘Ritual Land , Uncommon Ground’ album left off. Rustic and otherworldly, this ably recalls the best of artists such as Candidate, James Yorkston and King Creosote. Next, Circle/Temple (Dom Cooper, previously also of The Owl Service) interjects some analogue synth and a choral mass, a solemn and devotional contribution that is interspersed with some background effects and percussion worthy of noisters Einsturzende Neubauten.
Scottish folk troubadour Alasdair Roberts takes on ‘The Little Collier’, a genuinely moving and evocative song of a miner’s life that is simple in its relatively unadorned and understated delivery but powerful in its emotional resonance. Next (Emily Portman’s Coracle Band member) M.G Boulter’s ‘His Name Is Gene’ is a hushed revelation, a fragile, lo-fi diamond. The guitar interlude at the close of the song in particular is a hairs rising on the back of your neck moment. A distant accordion dervish opens ‘The Spin’, the contribution from Southend’s Crafting for Foes, before their acoustic and haunting, bucolic acid folk enters to cast a ghost like shadow, reminiscent of the likes of both Stone Angel and Espers. Next up is the splendid Lost Harbours who begin on a bed of shifting, ominous drones, their ‘Nine Ladies’ transforming into a plaintive lament amongst a spectral choir of voices and percussion effects. A standout for this listener, this dark, earthy folksong displays the flipside of traditional music, invoking the murderous and supernatural elements that exist within the form. Following on, Brazil Banks’ ‘Darby’ is an emotive string and loop based instrumental that is strong in its gentle ebb and flow, whilst Robert Sunday’s ‘Romy’ is a beautiful piece of pastoral folk replete with stately guitar and storytelling.
Moving on, Nancy Wallace, who also should be familiar to The Owl Service fans, delivers a crystalline wonder in ‘Yellow Tail’, another album highlight in what is a veritable treasure chest of quiet, considered gems. Nick Pynn’s fiddle led ‘Fue de Joie’ then provides a change of pace, recalling Barry Dransfield’s work in a complex and oft mysterious reel that hints at hidden shadows and dark corners. ‘Lapwing to Shore’ by Kate Waterfield and Charlie Skelton provides a more traditional take on string led folk but is no less pleasing for that and is nothing less than lovely. To close, dark folk singer Sharron Kraus offers an A Capella ‘Hearts Joined as One’, a stirring and evocative folk club singalong; a suitable means with which to end an album that takes in folk music in a number of its guises and adaptations.
‘A Place to Dwell‘ is then a jewel, many faceted and with corners rough and smooth, but all a part of the whole. Great care and love has obviously gone into curating and creating this album with its quiet beauty and gentle power. It is also for an excellent cause and is available on CD and download from Southend YMCA’s bandcamp page. Haste ye there – highly recommended.
Pre-order ‘A Place to Dwell’ here
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