Being described by Mike Harding as “one of the bright stars of the new wave of folk singers” serves as both an impressive introduction and testimonial. That’s particularly the case in the current climate when folk music seems to be the new black and when the genre is literally bursting at the seams with a glut of incredibly talented new musicians and voices.
For her latest effort, Ange Hardy has gathered (for that read: written, arranged, recorded and produced) a collection of original songs which have been inspired by family, tradition and personal experience - songs of West Somerset heritage and stories of working the land.
With the cover art featuring a photograph of her Great Grandfather on the same West Somerset farm as the photos taken for the booklet, there’s a deeply personal feel to the whole package, with the songs including all sorts of reference to Ange’s family. In fact, the CD booklet is a bit of a gem, containing not only the lyrics but also brief notes on the origins and backgrounds to the songs which add to the homely and organic feel which permeates this project.
Having received the accolade of being FATEA’s Female Vocalist Of The Year following her Bare Foot Folk album released in 2013, the early reviews for The Lament Of The Black Sheep have been most favourable. So - does the album get the Bright Young Folk seal of approval?
Never ones to jump on the bandwagon, but this is a startling piece of work. Forty five minutes of beautifully crafted and performed music and it’s simply just a treat to sit back and let the whole Lament experience wash over you a few times before delving deeper into the songs.
In surrounding herself with a set of musicians who have been able to interpret her musical visions in a subtle and sensitive manner, it’s also a case of hats off to James Findlay on vocals and fiddle, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Jon Dyer on flute, Alex Cumming on accordion and Jo May on percussion for what they bring to the project and helping realise the subtle beauty of what Ange has crafted.
Throughout the album there are all manner of subtle touches: the spoons played at the end of The Raising And The Letting Go, a song about the special relationship between a child and its parents and its journey into adult independence, were created from the melted debris of bombs dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. There are also many references to Ange’s own son Luke, the album closing with a lullaby for him as well as his inspiring the title track from his own version of the famous rhyme.
As well as the songs which resonate with deep personal meanings, there are those which pay tribute to more traditional folk themes; the call of the sea looms large in The Bow To The Sailor and The Sailor’s Farewell; there are ghosts, poachers, pilgrimages and the almost obligatory tale of the unsuspecting maiden drowned by her demon lover. Oh, and chickens - depending on how you interpret The Tilling Bird; either as a simple love song or a tribute to the Marsh Daisy, it being the UK’s rarest breed of chicken.
It seems a bit churlish to pick out any individual songs or performances for the album works best as a whole - the album very much a journey, although personal favourites start to appear after repeated listenings - The Gambler’s Lot and The Daring Lassie are early highlights while the gentle pace of The Tilling Bird and the slow build into a lively outro is a personal favourite.
What’s apparent though is that the name of Ange Hardy and her Lament Of The Black Sheep are going to feature prominently on the end of year Best Of’s - get your money down now.Mike Ainscoe
Released 13th September by Story Records Ltd.
1. The Bow To The Sailor
2. The Lament Of The Black Sheep
3. The Gambler’s Lot
4. The Daring Lassie
5. The Sailor’s Farewell
6. The Wanting Wife
7. The Foolish Heir
8. The Wool Gatherer
9. The Lost Soul
10. The Cull
11. The Tilling Bird
12. The Young Librarian
13. The Raising And The Letting Go
14. The Lullaby