(4 / 5)
This one caught me by surprise. A very pleasant surprise. Never heard of the two musicians before. When I noted the instrumentation, acoustic guitar, mandolin and two voices; I assumed this was going to be “another trad’ folk album from Scotland”.
Wrong. Well, partly correct but that is not the full story. I have to say; this really is a lovely album and these two are hugely talented. Some exemplary musicianship, on mandolin and acoustic guitar, and some very fine material. We get 16 songs, split into 11 tracks; five of them carve up the cut into two songs each. With just two instruments and the two voices, they make a powerful sound and know how to set up a groove, and there is never a time it sounds thin and under-produced, and not once did it lose my attention.
Jenn and Laura-Beth have been a presence on the UK folk scene for a few years, individually, and brought together by the close-knit Glasgow folk music community; spending lots of their time jamming an eclectic mix of folk music from across the globe, particularly UK, Scandinavia and America.Laura-Beth is a founding member of the folk band The Shee and has also toured extensively with Frigg, Shooglenifty and Dougie MacLean’s “The MacLean Project”. In 2013 she was nominated for the MG Alba Scots Trad Awards ‘Composer of the Year’ award, after the success of her Celtic Connections commission and debut solo album, “Breathe”. I need to hear that record. Jenn Butterworth began her career touring worldwide with Anna Massie Band, and has worked with Fiddlers’ Bid, Phil Cunningham and Songs Of Separation.
The years of playing together brought a deep affinity between Jenn and Laura-Beth; their rhythms lock tightly, their voices blend closely enough to sometimes cause a problem trying to tell them apart. A natural telepathy; two musicians bound together, you might say. I just did! Their debut album is a culmination of the last eight years together, a snapshot of where they have come from and where they are now. It is fresh, youthful, vigorous and finely crafted. There is light and shade among the songs and the tracks, and it is a very even listen. The material flows and gives the album a good pace and feel.
Laura-Beth Salter’s mandolin playing knocked me out, to be honest. I am a big fan of the instrument and in a previous life as a music manager and producer, have had the pleasure of working with some top-notch players here and when working in Nashville studios on Music Row. Chris Thile with Nickel Creek and with his current band Punch Bothers, is probably my fave mandolin player; tied with the great Bill Monrore, of course! Laura is now on my “best of” list. That is not to under-state how flippin’ good Ms Butterworth is on her guitar, though. No Sir. Who needs a drummer and bass player to keep time and give it some bottom end when Ms B is on the case?
On track two, “Shine,” a Laura-penned instrumental, Laura does just that on her mandolin; shines brightly. Such an infectious hook, makes me smile every time I hear it. With just mandolin and Jenn’s solid acoustic guitar on the track, it is as stripped down as you can get, but still packs a punch. Track three, “The Braver One,” penned by Laura-Beth has a moody groove to it, and some gorgeous harmonies, building in intensity from Jenn’s chugging guitar licks. A stand-out of the collection.
More lovely harmonies on Boo Hewerdine’s “Wings On My Heel”. Another mandolin-led instrumental on the pretty, Jenn-written “1,2,3,4” and the Celtic-flavoured “Apple At The Crossroads”, which flows into the guitar and mandolin duel of the trad’ song “Elzwick’s Farewell”. Almost five minutes is dedicated to the final two instrumentals on the album; “Hasse’s A”, and Luke Plumb’s “32 Bars Of Filth”. A beautiful harmony-filled rendition of Mindy Smiths gospel and mountain music-tinged, emotion-filled sad lament, “Come To Jesus” closes proceedings.
The versatility of the material adds huge value across this record and dips in and out of a traditional folk vibe to contemporary territory. Nothing sounds dated or “all been done before”. It all has a really energetic, ‘breath of fresh air’ feel about it. Writers are Laura-Beth, Jenn, Jean Ritchie for the opener, “Let The Sun Shine Down On Me”, Boo Hewerdine,, Kate Wolfe’s “The Great Divide”, a Bert Jansch song, “If I Had A Lover”, Rodney Dillard and Mitch Jayne’s “There Is A Time”, plus songs from Mikael Marin, Calum MacCrimmon and Mindy Smith.
When the pair set out to make this album their mantra was: “Keep it simple”. To capture the raw energy of their gigs and to make it feel totally natural and not smothered by throwing the kitchen sink at it with lots of session players and over-dubs. The way they play on stage is the way they did it in the Glasgow studio; either in the same room playing live together or facing each other with a glass door between them. They achieved their goals, and some. ‘Bound’ for success…
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’