Every now and then you get an agitator in the world of folk; someone who takes the songs that have thrived for tens or hundreds of years, and makes them fresh for a new generation – people like Jim Moray and Eliza Carthy. This release puts Jarlath Henderson firmly with them in that bracket.
It only took one track to put me in love with this album: “Courting is a Pleasure,” which Henderson describes as a “story of false love, alcohol, gambling and emigration.” So it only needs a bit of murder in there to make it a typical folk song. Apart from being a fine piece (as are all eight tracks on this collection), it is the arrangement that converted me.
It starts with a rippling guitar line, along with some atmospheric electronica… and then the Moog comes in! Its low growl gives tremendous oomph to the piece, and the whole arrangement is absolutely addictive.
The Moog appears elsewhere, too, and is particularly mood-enhancing on the dramatic drone-drenched murder ballad “Young Edmund in the Lowlands Low,” but this is not a one-trick band. Henderson treats each song individually and brings out its own character.
So “Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure” is stripped back and acoustic; “Fare Thee Well Lovely Nancy” rides a heavy bass sequencer groove, with splashes of jazz and electronica; and “The Slighted Lover” is given a chilled jazz treatment. Henderson eschews his normal pipes and flute, sticking to vocals, while the piano moves centre-stage, joined by some sparing trombone and baritone sax.
The bottom line is that this collection is a real joy (if you can describe lots of homicide, theft and deceit that way). There’s no doubting that this is in the folk tradition, as the vocals are up-front, narrative-based song is always king and Henderson’s pipes and whistles liberally colour the music. But the dressing is clear, fresh and very much of today.
Just try this ‘making of’:
If you haven’t got the 35 minutes it lasts (really? Make time. Go on, it’s fascinating) then go straight to “Courting is a Pleasure” at 13 minutes in and give it 4 minutes. You’ll get a glimpse of why this is nearly my idea of the perfect folk album.
Henderson is on tour in November, supporting Anais Mitchell. This is highly recommended.