Born Douglas Oates, Moray has not only reinvented himself but also traditional folk, his debut album, Sweet England changing the way English folk music was perceived, earning Album of the Year at the 2004 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards as well as garnering the Horizon Award for best newcomer and having two tracks from the album, "Early One Morning" and "Lord Bateman", nominated twice in the Best Traditional Song category. Since then, he's continued to push the frontiers, subsequent albums embracing electronic, searing indie guitar, grime and symphonic pop, while, in 2014, he joined forces with Sam Carter to form the rowdy folk rock outfit Fair Lights. However, this, his sixth, is relatively conservative as far as the genre goes, albeit still filtering such influences as Steve Reich and Michael Nyman and recasting hoary old Child ballads as orchestrated torch songs, describing the title as his way of describing his music, encompassing the likes of June Tabor, The Blue Nile, Jeff Buckley and Henry Purcell.
With instrumentation that includes woodwinds, English bagpipes, Lirone, Shekere and harmonies from Jess Morgan, he's gone for story songs, eight traditional and two self-penned. The former get things underway with a catchy, almost poppy reading of 15th century murder ballad "Fair Margaret and Sweet William", underpinned by jittery pulsing Nymanesque keyboards and fleshed out with cascading brass, Anna Jenkins on violin and either Jo Silverston or Jo McCarthy on pizzicato cello, before giving "William of Barbary" a gorgeous chamber pop arrangement, complete with trumpet flourish and, I think, Chris Hillman on pedal steel. The six-minute "Another Man's Wedding" (sometimes known as "The Nobleman's Wedding") starts softly with keys and violin, the instrumentation gradually swelling to almost Northern brass proportions before, cheekily, right at the end, he interpolates the chorus from "All Around My Hat".
Another Roud ballad, "Edward of the Lowlands" (more commonly Edwin or Edmond) is another much covered murder ballad (girl's parents kill her lover for his gold), is taken at a suitably funereal slow march . Collected in both Roud and Child, rather inevitably adopting his namesake spelling rather than Morrie, "Eppie Moray" (Highlander abducts girl, fails to either marry or rape her and she demands a horse to return to her mother) is taken at a frisky pace, the lyrics largely a variation on those recorded by Fotheringay (though disappointingly dispensing with the euphemistic line about Willie being unable to "stretch her spey").
The two originals lie back to back and both share an astronomical theme, albeit several centuries apart. Accompanying himself on electric piano with violin joining later, a slow and stately The "Straight Line and The Curve" nods to Elizabethan stargazer John Dee and has a suitable hint of courtly Renaissance about it, while, of more modern bent, "Sounds of Earth", preambled with a snatch of audio, is an acoustic fingerpicked celebration of Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan and was written about the gold record curated by the latter and placed aboard the Voyage spacecraft.
Returning to traditional matters, "The Foggy Dew" adopts the Benajmin Britten tune from Folksong Arrangements Vol. 3, reworked to give a more melancholic feel (though maintaining the melodic soaring vocal swell of the chorus) and also features a spoken passage in Portuguese by Maria Ines Santos. Viola Da Gamba player Liam Byrne comes aboard to provide drone backing for a seven-minute version of the pirate saga shanty "The Flying Cloud" before the album closes with trad chestnut "Lord Franklin", the ballad about the search for a north-west passage, in a version learned from Martin Carthy and Nic Jones and embellished here with sweeping strings.
He may not be rewriting the rulebook quite as extensively this time around, but, just as he's posing on the cover about to fire an arrow, he's scored another bullseye.
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