Stellar modern readings of traditional English, Scottish and Irish folk songs. Featuring James Yorkston, Heather Ditch, Alasdair Roberts, Nancy Elizabeth and more!
Currently residing in Sheffield, The Big Eyes Family Players are loose collective centred around James Green and his favoured core group of musicians. They evolved from Green's previous Big Eyes project. In 2009 they released Folk Songs,
a collection of old English, Scottish and Irish folk tunes. Three years on and they're releasing Folk Songs II, having drafted in a number of their favourite singers to choose songs and sing on the record. Too often folk albums are staid and boring affairs but this album has a freshness about it, enough to re-ignite even the most jaded folkie's love of traditional song.
The songs themselves are proof of the rich folklore of these islands, countries which have spawned music as mysterious and enticing as any incense filled eastern temple. If that wasn't enough the treatments of these songs is truly something special and despite the revolving door of vocalists flows well as a collection. It's also a timely reminder that there's more to our national identity than petty football rivalries, TV soaps, and our love/hate relationship with the tabloid press. It's difficult not to be stirred by these songs, such is their deep resonance. The arrangements are irreverent and sprawling and as such infuse the songs with the spirit and life they deserve.
Take for example Greenland Bound, a whaling ballad sung here by Adrian Crowley. Its tale of loneliness, hard work, danger and isolation from family and friends is lent weight by the addition of distant whistling. Mary Hampton and Sharron Kraus double up for vocals on A Man Indeed, a song derived from an old English rhyme called Sandy Dawe to which they've written a new melody. Fans of the original 1973 film The Wicker Man (and who isn't!?) will love this track, along with pretty much everything else on the album.
The record hits its stride with Looly, Looly a beautiful and beguilingly catchy song featuring James Yorkston on vocals. Its arrangement features an intoxicating blend of instruments including glockenspiel, slide guitar, viola and harmoniflute. Heather Ditch then sings The Clyde Water, perhaps the most radio-friendly track here, complete with a psychedelic synth break worthy of any mid-'60s acid band.
For my mind the album highlight however is The Coast O' Spain, a Scottish travelling song sung here by Alasdair Roberts. It's melody is beautiful enough in itself but with the gloriously clangy guitar backing, along with backing vocals from from Green and Heather Ditch it becomes a truly spectacular reading. Lack of space stops me from mentioning the rest of the album but there's not a bad track among them. Other vocalists include Nancy Elizabeth, James William Hindle, Elle Osbourne and James Green himself.
The album closes with a rendition of a baudy Irish song called Maureen From Gippursland, which marks Alasdair Roberts' second lead vocal, complete with industrial power tool noises at a particular point in the song. For my money there's unlikely to be a finer traditional folk album this year. It's available as a standard 12 track album and also as a special limited edition containing an extra 3 tracks and postcards. Well worth looking out for.
Click here for the Big Eyes' website.