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Road Not Taken Road Not Taken
Album: Fragment
Label: Self release
Tracks: 10

With their debut album Fragment, Road Not Taken prove there is still life in the traditional repertoire. With the cleverly layered sustained sounds of harmonium and violin, the thoughtful and fresh arrangements hint at orchestral textures, whilst banjo and guitar alongside pizzicato violin add drive and energy. Front and centre throughout is the vocal talent of Anita Dobson, leading the listener through the stories that weave their way across the album.

An example of a stand out re-working of a traditional song is Hares on the Mountain. In the hands of the band the tune is given the Sondheim treatment. The minor chord that opens the track is foreboding and ominous, and the string effects layered in the background hint at something sinister just out of sight. Whistling tremolo from the violin and satisfyingly discordant chimes build under the lyrics before a closing tune that adds a vibrant refrain to this chilling version of the song. This quickly became my most played track on the album.

Their strength for reimagining a traditional work is also ably demonstrated by I’ll Weave my Love a Garland. The opening is plaintive and filled with sweet longing. Delicate accompaniment from pizzicato fiddle and harmonium supports the crystal clear vocal, with a soft and breathy edge. The arrangement gradually evolves, falling away briefly to just guitar before it builds again in intensity and the vocal really begins to soar. The violin that takes centre stage in the instrumental is throaty and filled with sighing glissandos and a beautiful shimmering vibrato, a perfect counterpoint to the vocal.

The diverse approach to arrangement continues in William Taylor where the gentle chimes and pizzicato create the impression of a music box as the story begins and the track blossoms gently around the verses. In the Blacksmith, pizzicato violin and banjo combine with body percussion, and these ostinatos underpin a bright and uplifting track that swells to a richly layered accompaniment.

The band apply this same skill and nuanced approach to their original music, of which The White Gown is a fine example. The opening string arrangement has a stark harmony reminiscent of renaissance textures, and it leads to a percussive and rhythmic accompaniment for the lyrical material, eventually becoming a lilting tune picked out by banjo and violin. This melts into a pleasing groove and as the story unfolds the texture builds around the vocals. At a peak in the narrative, the sustained ring of the harmonium picks out voicings that would be at home in an orchestral score, and for a moment the reeds sing more like a church organ.

This triumph is repeated with The Grey of the Water that opens with an acappella vocal filled with sadness and longing. The band join with a delicate mix of drones and light, glittering arpeggios and the piece closes with a fierce racing rendition of the King of the Faeries with a driving lift from the guitar.

I’ve found myself listening to the CD again and again to savour the captivating sound worlds and scenes painted by the band across the record. The approach to traditional tunes is fresh and exciting without obscuring the source material, and the original material is distinctive and equally well crafted.

Leonardo MacKenzie