Our favourite radical outfit Stick In The Wheel has always made an impact with its innovative presentation of folk music, its startling, raw performances delivering the music upfront and unadorned, while also often utilising unusual and original packaging formats. In addition to the band’s ground-breaking 2015 debut album From Here, there’ve been various EPs, singles, vinyl releases, digital, newspaper, broadsheet and arthouse/museum booklet.
Now, the band’s followup full-length CD release takes another imaginative sideways step from convention, while at the same time being possibly the most complete realisation of its ethic and mission statement for the careful curatorship of folk music. For it’s exactly what it says on the tin – a collection of field recordings that together comprise “a snapshot of English folk music right now”, reflecting the signature SITW sound aesthetic of stark beauty. This was achieved by taking a mobile studio on the road and capturing performances that were immediate and intimate, featuring several distinguished names from the folk world as well as some lesser-known performers.
Even though much of the actual material could be regarded as well-familiar, these close-drawn performances are like hearing it afresh or with new ears – and, in effect, challenging our preconceptions. For instance, we get pensive, affectionate accounts of Fathom The Bowl and The Wild Rover from Jon Boden and Sam Lee respectively, contrasting with a gloriously glottal Georgie from SITW’s unmistakable Nicola Kearey and a fetching Lavender Song from Lisa Knapp. The disc’s only other direct SITW contribution is Fran Foote’s well-judged take on The Irish Girl. Bella Hardy delivers a tour de force of fiddle-singing with The Ballad Of Hugh Stenson, and Eliza Carthy’s wonderfully rough-hewn and primal solo rendition of recently-discovered broadside ballad The Sea is worlds away from (and for me more impressive than) the boldly-upholstered version on her new Wayward Band album. Other especially noteworthy contributions come from Fay Hield (a fine account of Bonny Boy) and the all-too-infrequently-heard Peta Webb & Ken Hall (Just A Note/Wild Wild Whiskey), while a couple of decidedly strongly voiced selections may polarise listeners rather more (Stew Simpson’s quite outré, but high in both dynamic conviction and credibility, account of Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew, and Men Diamler’s masterly self-penned slice of anger and passion 1848/Sunset Beauregard). None of which comment is to underplay the quality of the remaining field recordings, which include sterling performances from Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick and Wolf People’s Jack Sharp, and reliable instrumental items from Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and Spiro.
This is a magnificent collection, which brilliantly fulfils the band’s stated aim, i.e. “to connect folk music to a wider audience whilst challenging the perception of what it is”. The contributors’ own liner notes provide plenty of information and perspective on their choices, enhancing the value of the whole package as way more than a folk primer for the uninitiated (pace the above credo). So take it From Here!
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