If you like folk-pop-styled songwriting with real substance, then this Cunning Folk album will suit you well. Cunning Folk turns out to be a pseudonym for singer and songwriter George Nigel Hoyle - who's previously released a couple of albums under the name of Nigel Of Bermondsey, then formed a little band, Gentle Folk, to realise his writing in a mutually inclusive group setting. He shows that he can be both gentle and cunning here, for Ritual Land And Uncommon Ground is a natural step on from Gentle Folk, an artful and thoroughly researched chronicle-in-song of aspects of Britain's ancient ways, tracks and practices, delivered in a wispy, delicate and often quite hazy style that belies the depth of its content. George achieves an intimate small-group sound on this album, I suspect due to the contributions of at least some of the good musicians of Gentle Folk (Sarah Lloyd, Ian Kennedy et al.)?… flute, violin and guitar with a well-pointed bass line and some subtle drumming. The overall impression is of a placid kind of wistfulness that's hard to resist.
The darker territories of landscape and legend are conjured in a pastoral-yet-pagan musical language that at various times recalls Mellow Candle, the ISB, Robyn Hitchcock, even CSN, but without ever quite sounding like any of them. Some might find George's singing voice a touch too "pretty", but it's easy to get used to the high register and the charming nature of his invention wins you over. His is a sensibility that appreciates the past and the present in cautious and respectful parallel, inviting you to share his sometimes hard-edged views (especially on songs like Lancashire, God's Country and Uncommon Ground) that indicate there are still lessons to be learnt from history. What Has Been And Gone Before also explores the relationship between past and present, while The Chiming Child is an unsettling narrative in anyone's book. The Modern Antiquarian (perhaps my favourite track) pays tribute to Julian Cope, Chalk Horses trots and struts and the closing song Walk Through The Juniper powerfully evokes a panoramic genius loci.
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