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Rachel Hamer Band Rachel Hamer Band
Album: Hard Ground
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10

The debut album from the Rachel Hamer Band, delivered all ship shape from Simpson Street Studios by the potent hands of Ian Stephenson. It sees the four piece Newcastle based band drawing on their individual cultures and upbringing, gathering together Sam Partridge and his floating High Peak flute, Borders guitarist Graeme Armstrong and Teeside clog dancer/fiddle player Grace Smith. Rachel Hamer herself brings her own Whitley Bay singaround background and together the quartet gather to bring a collection of songs of the NorthEast.

A title which suggests a struggle, indeed it's a hard ground which may have lain fallow, yet mined richly by The Young 'Uns. A hard ground which is reflected in a sparse musical landscape in a set of songs which are mined from the traditional and the likes of established and iconic names in the field of social commentary in song, Graeme Miles and Ewan MacColl. Struggles and hardships are the common and provide the overriding theme which runs through the choice of material; especially calling on the industrial culture of the North East.

Having set the tone and painted the background picture with Graeme Miles' 'Blue Sunset', there's an ominous drone on Jean Ritchie's 'West Virginia', bemoaning mining disasters across the world before Rachel boldly takes 'What A Voice' unaccompanied. Her own 'Bevan Boys' - the subject matter rooted in historical fact - fits perfectly in the set and she includes an interesting take on 'Gypsy Laddie' - her version of 'The Ballad Of The Gypsie Laddies', carefully pieced together from various collections. A song which provides a lighter tone, traditional with Rachel's own twist, it's possibly the pick of the album. A close call with the narrative of 'Will Jobling', the tale of the last man to be gibbeted in the North East, driven by a sawing fiddle, again championing the cause for the unjust.

Ultimately, what comes across is the strength of the heritage of these songs, the way they arrive, having been passed across generations by being sung and shared. It's a set which shows due respect and a sensitivity to the material and the subject matter. Melancholy yet challenging and seeking escape like the red winged bird of the Billy Ed Wheeler song, Rachel Hamer and her band do a grand job of conveying a set of austerity and bleakness with rays of hope.

Mike Ainscoe