Sam Lee: The Fade In Time
|Sam Lee never does anything predictable. This new 12 track release is as original as you would expect from such an innovative artist. Of course all the songs will be recognisable by anyone with a modicum of knowledge of folksong but their treatment is in no way traditional. As most of his fans know, Sam has been engaged in collecting songs from the Traveller community in Scotland for the last year or so. His singing style reflects this passion, though not his choice of accompaniment which is marvellously eclectic.|
Sam's diction is so clear that you will not miss any of the story lines. The balance of the album is cleverly judged to allow for the voice to soar over the distraction of the backing tracks many of which are so surprising that they take a while for one's ears to acclimatise. Many of the tracks use samples from disparate sources - some are old singers from the tradition of these islands, others European and possibly New World sounds.
Johnny O' The Brine ( the opening track) a border ballad sounds like it was recorded in the jungles of South America along with claves,panpipes, birdsong and raucus bugle sounds.
A sample of rich Eastern European cantor singing starts off the Bonny Bunch of Roses, which settles down into the story of Napoleon's downfall.
The Blackbird has synthesiser, drums, crashing cymbals and a muted rock band as the accompaniment. It is a minor mode version and one of my favourite tracks on the album. Is that a mandolin I hear at the end?
Lord Gregory starts with Charlotte Higgins being interviewed by Hamish Henderson about the song. She recites the first verse which then segues into Sam's sensitive singing of the ballad with a strings, brass and keyboard backing. He develops an interestingly meditative and moody section which fades out just as one imagines Lord Gregory's Annie fades into the distance over the waves.
Over Yonders Hill (a version of There is an Alehouse/Died for Love) is sung to a complex rhythm with that starts with a light guitar accompaniment that expands into a fiddle and modern jazz combo backing. To finish the track we even get a verse of the Blue Eyed Lover sung by Freda Black, one of Sam's traveller source singers.
Moorlough Maggie learnt from his mentor, the traveller Stanley Robertson, starts with string arpeggios and Sam's gentle crooning with complex vocal decoration. Fiddles and kotos are there in abundance in the background.
Phoenix Island, The Moon Shone On My Bed ,Willie O. Airdog are other titles here given the Sam Lee treatment.
The ravishingly languid Lovely Molly has a lush choir backing which makes this one of the most soothing tracks on the album. It is a song of resignation and loss of a love to someone else, but not a final farewell because in the spring he will meet her again to hear the nightingales sing.
The Moss House, with its slow pub piano backing is a version of The Streams of Buncloddy. an Irish emigration ballad.
I reckon this is the album that will get Sam Lee the recognition he deserves. It has all the elements to appeal to a wide commercial audience yet stays well within the boundaries of "folk" to be considered by those of us who love the tradition as worthy of including in our collection.
- Mary Humphreys
The Fade In Time is released on 16th March 2015 and can be pre-ordered by following this link: The Fade In Time
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