Tuesday 24 January 2012

The Woodbine & Ivy Band - The Woodbine & Ivy Band

Album review by KevW

This article also appears on http://www.soundsxp.com

The fundamental idea at the heart of The Woodbine & Ivy Band's creation was to gather a collective of some of Manchester's finest folk musicians and to tackle ten traditional English and Scottish songs with a different guest providing vocals to each. The manner in which these tracks have been updated could barely be described as modern (although there is a sparing use of synthesizer and, curiously, Spacemen 3 are cited as an influence), with these sounds having more in common with the 60s and 70s folk revival (think Fairport Convention, Pentangle) and the country rock of The Band and Gram Parsons. The outcome is a fairly mixed range of sounds all of which fit the ethos, and the variety of vocalists give a compilation album feel, but rather like 'Now That's What I Call Newport Folk Festival 1969', it's about allowing the songs to speak instead of drowning them in needless additives.

The delicately pretty 'Spencer The Rover' builds from its basic beginning to a mild crescendo of slide guitar, brass, piano and layered voices. It's quite stunning to hear traditional folk done this well and may help convert a few non-believers to the genre. Those with more mainstream tastes should look to the rollicking 'Alison Gross' for a great example of an amped up, electric update on this brand of time-honoured storytelling. Listening to the sparse, distant 'Derry Gaol' with its drones and forlorn horns you can just about see where the Spacemen 3 reference comes in too. It's the sinister erotica of 'Gently Johnny' that provides the album's centrepiece. Musically it's the sound of Neil Young's early solo records, sung with a naive innocence and brilliantly arranged.

Much of this record will be solely of interest to those whose tastes don't stray far from the folk scene, but tracks such as those mentioned above may bring a few new ears to the club, as the subtlety of the other aspects gives certain songs a wider catchment area, but whoever this collection ends up appealing to will grow to love it as they barely put a foot out of place. If I had to be picky I'd say that 'Out With My Gun In The Morning' could have been replaced with a better song, but even that is well recorded. All in all, 'The Woodbine & Ivy Band' should be treasured by seasoned folkies and new converts alike.

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