If you count "Findings", the album Ange Hardy recorded with Lukas Drinkwater, "Bring Back Home" is Ange's 6th studio album, which is always a good vantage point to look at an artists career particularly when five of those albums, including this one, have emerged at a rate of one a year and with a tendency to have a particularly generous 14 tracks on an album, particularly prolific by the standards of the day.
Ange's albums have tended to be step changes from the previous cuts, drawing on different styles and sounds, but maintaining the link with that that went before it, it's not a coincidence that "Esteesee" draws on the landscape that was partly laid down in "The Lament Of The Black Sheep", nor that its successor drew links between the points on life's path, all of which carries us to Ms Hardy's new album, "Bring Back Home".
There is something apocryphal about the title, if albums one to five were about the journey, this is an album that is about the destination, even if it's only a temporary one. This is an album of a completely free and unfettered songwriter, one that takes the songs as they fancy and aren't holding in any preconceived ideas about where this album needs to go and the album has responded to that liberation in abundance, making it not only the strongest album that Ange has yet delivered, but also one that's easy to access.
It's an album of juxtaposition, folklore and legend butt up against songs of life; tradition shares album space with the contemporary, minimalist standing cheek by jowl to songs that are definitely band orientated and that brings us to the musicianship.
Ange Hardy is a multi-instrumentalist who knows her way around a good selection of stuff you can strum, pluck and blow, "Bring Back Home" has her joined by regular collaborators Lukas Drinkwater, Evan Carson, Alex Cumming and Jon Dyer, plus Kadia's Lee Cuff and front and centre the incomparable Peter Knight, who delivers a fiddle solo that could unpetrify the stoniest of hearts.
Great musicianship is nothing without great arrangement, it's said a triangle can drown an orchestra and there must be a temptation to keep musicians of this calibre playing, whilst "Bring Back Home" proves that it is better to use them sparingly, deliver the melody and narrative and reward them with a few critical bars in between.
I'm not normally one for calling out individual tracks, particularly when this is an album that works so well, precisely because it's not carrying a story arc, but it would be remiss of me not to mention, "What May You Do For The JAM" one of the most social realist tracks that Ange Hardy has recorded to date. It is both a withering attack on the heartlessness of those who are supposed to offer the hand of support, but who constantly keep it tantalisingly out of reach, whilst celebrating the stoic families that somehow hold it together, it's as good a four minutes of song as you would find anywhere.
It is only time that determines the great from the merely very good. As an album for the here and now I think you would struggle to find better, as for the future, this one is here for the years to come, it's already taken great leaps towards the triumphal arch, history the rest is down to you.
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