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HATFUL OF RAIN - The Morning Key

HATFUL OF RAIN - The Morning Key
Union Music Store UMS006

Hatful Of Rain is a Brighton-based four-piece outfit whose debut CD (2012’s Way Up On The Hill) apparently made quite an impact right across the UK roots scene but somehow never reached my eager ears (more’s the pity!). First impression of their music is probably something of a kind of Union Station sound-alike, but Hatful Of Rain turn out to be no kind of tribute band, for they perform exclusively their own material – and abnormally fine it is too.

Just over two-thirds of the compositions are by principal vocalist Chloë Overton, the rest shared amongst the remaining three band members; subject matter is mainly wistful and reflective, often couched in the approved manner of story-song but easy to identify and sympathise with. Rippling mandolin, keening fiddle, reliable guitar fills and thumping upright bass provide a signature full-bodied no-nonsense bluegrass sound. All are credited with playing at least three instruments and the standard of musicianship is just fine to do justice to the songs without troubling themselves about having to maintain a note-spinning, attention-grabbing competition-standard just to get listened to. Having said that, one of the disc’s standout tracks (the anti-war opus One Promised Land) finds Chloë, Phil Jones and Fred Gregory singing in keenly realised three-part harmony with just James Shenton’s lone, mournful fiddle for accompaniment, whereas the number immediately following it, Map Or Compass, is a vibrant example of the let-yourself-go, full-throttle foot-tapping ‘driving-ahead’ school of bluegrass that’s obviously as much fun for the listener as the performers. The gentle Scarlet Ribbon, another highlight track, has a kind of Kate Rusby feel, while the almost-instrumental cut Stranger manages to create a slightly doomy atmosphere of alienation through its display of exotic energy. Broad Woolly Back is a moving paean to a lost father, while Stay is a poignant love duet. Evangeline brings a twist on the time-honoured ‘unrequited love and murder’ theme of traditional song and Train In The Distance follows the adventures of a typically rootless protagonist. The final track, the abundantly cheering and joyously dancing Little Bird, expands the instrumental textures by bringing in a whistle and hurdy gurdy (the latter courtesy of guest musician Max Sweatman – other guests appearing include Bruno Pichler, Laura Hockenhull, John Breese and producer Al Scott).

The Morning Key is a very fine record that bodes extremely well for the versatile unit that is Hatful Of Rain.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 102 of The Living Tradition magazine.