Said the Maiden are one of the most lauded young groups on the British folk scene, and the release of their second album, Here’s a Health, has been hotly anticipated. They are made up of three talented multi-instrumentalists: Hannah Elizabeth plays violin, accordion, and mandolin; Jess Distill handles flute, whistles, and dulcimer; and Kathy Pilkinton can be heard on guitar, mandolin, clarinet, and bass. This eclectic range of instruments provides a rich and complex sound to their music.
Although all three are very gifted instrumentalists, it is their beautiful voices which make this album. Each is individually gorgeous, but the three singing in harmony is even better than the sum of its parts.
This is immediately obvious from the album’s first proper track, a joyful rendition of The Birds’ Courting Song. This track is the first example of the bread and butter of the album, which is of course its traditional songs.
A highlight in this category is a superb version of The Bonnie Earl O’Moray, which begins a capella, showing off the trio’s harmonies brilliantly.
Some of these songs have had new tunes written for them by the group, and the finest of these is a traditional song from their home county of Hertfordshire. The Maid of the Mill tells the tale of a very choosy Baldock lass and her many unsuccessful suitors, and is very elegantly reproduced here.
Not all the songs are traditional, however. Perhaps the most intriguing exception is a cover of Tom Paxton’s quirky masterpiece, Jennifer’s Rabbit.
The groups humorous side also comes across in their newer compositions, particularly the convincingly authentic-sounding sea shanty Polly Can You Swim? This shows off a great sense of lyric writing, which is continued in the next track.
Black Annis is an original song telling the Leicestershire folk legend of a witch who murders children after dark. Its brilliantly crafted lyrics are blackly hilarious, and the threatening melody is enough to convince anyone to stay inside after nightfall.
The album ends with another a capella number, a cover of Richard Fariña’s The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood. This seems appropriate, as if drawing the listener’s attention once again to that gorgeous trio of voices. That is, after all, the thing that sets Here’s a Health apart as a very fine album, which certainly matches up to its expectations.Will Wilkins
Self-released on 1 November 2017.
2. The Birds’ Courting Song
3. The Maid of the Mill
4. Sweet William’s Ghost
5. Jennifer’s Rabbit
6. The Bonny Earl O’Moray
7. Polly Can You Swim?
8. Black Annis
9. In the Pines
10. The Bird in the Bush
11. Take the Night
12. The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood