Firstly, a cautionary note to those expecting the latest release from Jon Boden to be the final album in the promised trilogy inspired by a post-oil/fossil fuels world, following 2017's 'Afterglow'. This is not that album. Rather, we see him reunited with The Remnant Kings to deliver material which has featured in live performances. As Jon explains, "since this band was debuted live at Cambridge Folk Festival on the mainstage in 2016 we've been able to tour the UK and play many festivals in this bigger line-up so it felt very important to get into the studio and record lots of the stuff that is central to the live set".
With producer/engineer Andy Bell at the helm, on this recording, made at Monmouth's legendary Rockfield Studios, we find the full Remnant Kings line-up of Helen Bell, viola, Toni Durrant, euphonium, Harriet Davies, violin, Sam Fisher, flugel & trumpet, Rob Harbron, concertina, fiddle, electric guitar & vocals, Ben Nicholls, double & electric bass & concertina, Lucy Revis, cello, Paul Sartin, oboe, cor anglais, fiddle, & vocals, Sam Sweeney, drums, fiddle, concertina & vocals and Richard Warren, electric guitar, credited alongside Jon on guitars, fiddle, concertina & vocals.
Across the 12 tracks are to be found a healthy mixture of traditional songs, Boden's own arrangements and a couple of covers, all underpinned by a musician who has amassed no less than 11 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
The opening track, the traditional 'Rose In June', recounts the tragic tale of two fishermen, the master and owner, Andrew Davidson, and crew member, John Allan, were both swept overboard and drowned when their boat 'The Rose in June' a 15 ton lugger, capsized in December 1872. Jon Boden credits Louis Killen as his source for his rendering of The Rose in June as the 30 June 2010 entry of his blog A Folk Song a Day. Excellent and moving though that unaccompanied rendition was, the version presented here is nothing short of astounding. At 9minutes 45 seconds, the songs builds gradually over the first half, as the narrative unfolds, but nothing prepares the listener for the hymn which first comes in at 5 minutes 5 seconds. Whether the source is the Salvation Army's 739 'I Am Thine' or the standard 'Revive Us Again' is irrelevant - elegiac and anthemic, it is one of those 'hairs on the back of your neck' moments - totally captivating.
The first of three other traditional offerings is 'All Hang Down', the brilliantly up-beat electric, brassy, string infused offering here far-removed from the bonus-track version on the re-issued debut album Painted Lady. with 'Rigs Of The Time', whilst the lyrics are those sung by Bellowhead, there the similarity between the two recorded versions ends. Here a much stripped-back version, sans brass, features delicate, often pizzicato, strings over calmer, less strident, vocals from Jon. 'Seven Bonnie Gypsies' begins with pastoral-sounding strings and continues in a bucolic mood to provide four and a half minutes of pure bliss.
Boden's own compositions include instrumentals 'Leviathan', 'Ruin Reel' and 'Carnival Hornpipe'. The first of these, and regular live main-set closer, is likely to be one of the most exciting and enervating folk-rock stompers you will encounter this year. The latter two tunes showcase both the compositional acuity and superb musicianship of those involved. Stupendous stuff.
The two covers that appear on the release are both winners too. Ewan MacColl's 'Sweet Thames Flow Softly' is re-interpreted in a 'folk-rock with brass and strings' style, which works in spades; would this make a great Christmas single? A song played live as an encore, 'Hounds of Love', yes the Kate Bush epic, which receives full-on concertina treatment here, is a revelation, (although I have to admit I'm a sucker for things like this e.g. June Tabor & The Oysterband playing 'White Rabbit' or Joy Division, and Gilmore Roberts version of 'Poison').
Three further very strong Boden compositions, 'Beating The Bounds', 'Going Down To The Wasteland' and 'We Do What We Can', all taken from his Songs From The Floodplain album, (upon which, lest it be forgotten, Jon played all instruments), but re-interpreted and given a new lease of life here with more expansive instrumental accompaniments, (no disrespect meant to SFTF, which remains a masterpiece), complete the album.
In the absence of a 'Live in Concert' release, or, more obviously, attending a show, the Rose In June recording is, at the time of writing, the closest listeners can get to experiencing the sheer energy and joie de vivre engendered by a live performance, and it's by no means a poor substitute.
Jon Boden's music continues, through its evolutionary and organic development, alongside a steadfast determination to resist elitism, to keep the folk tradition alive. Long may this continue. Rose In June is a majestic album.
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