Monday, 24 February 2014

The Furrow Collective – 'At Our Next Meeting'

The Furrow Collective comprises Emily Portman, Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Farrell and Rachel Newton. Together, these four fantastic musicians and singers have uncovered some beautiful ballads and have compiled them on this wonderful CD. Perhaps this is a slightly strange direction for Alasdair Roberts and Emily Portman, who are known throughout the folk scene for their traditional influenced song-writing: however, this album showcases their thoughtful interpretations of traditional songs. Additionally, the album is centred around dark folklore and storytelling through song, which is certainly something these four musicians do incredibly well. This is further highlighted through the instrumentation which is fittingly sparse at times.

The album opens with the song ‘Wild and Wicked Youth’, also known as ‘Newry Town’. It has a beautiful melody and the blend of Farrell’s and Roberts’ voices with a sparse guitar accompaniment draws attention to the narrative. The ballad is about a highwayman who steals to provide gifts for his wife. He is finally caught and the consequences are significant. Most songs on the album contain these simple arrangements which invite the listener to take note of the story rather than musical complexities.

Perhaps the most interesting song arrangement on this album is the overlapping of the ballads ‘Handsome Molly’ and ‘Our Captain Calls’. As is pointed out in the sleeve notes, these songs basically tell the same story but from different ‘sides’. It is therefore an incredibly clever arrangement. ‘Handsome Molly’ is told from a man’s point of view about Molly who promised to marry him but reneges. This is similar to ‘Our Captain Calls’ as the persona in ‘Handsome Molly’ wishes to ‘sailing on the ocean’, whilst ‘Our Captain Calls’ contains the story of  the woman who is left behind whilst her partner goes to sea. She claims that he deceived her to gain her money. Lucy Farrell sings ‘Handsome Molly’, and Emily Portman lends her voice to ‘Our Captain Calls’ but the addition of other voices creates poignant harmonies which enhance the sad nature of both songs.

The wonderfully catchy ‘Hind Horn’ is a particular favourite of mine because it contains a lovely refrain. Alistair’s skilful guitar playing adds a rhythmic element to the song which heightens the mood. ‘I’d Rather be Tending my Sheep’ is, as the title suggests, a reflection on the joys of being a shepherd. It is a song in which other options for life our dismissed for a simple pastoral life. It contains a lovely chorus with beautiful harmonies. No instruments play on the track, and it therefore highlights the power of A’cappella singing.

The album showcases ballads and indicates their importance in the folk scene. ‘The Furrow Collective’ certainly has a unique approach to these songs which emphasises the interesting stories they contain.

‘I’d rather be Tending my Sheep’ -

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