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THE WILLOWS - Amidst Fiery Skies

THE WILLOWS - Amidst Fiery Skies
Elk Records ELK015

This young band from Cambridge straddles English roots and Americana in a very deft way. Adept at juxtaposing fiery, fragile, tough and tender in an emotive rollercoaster of song, it’s a much energized, evocative sound. Jade Rhiannon fronts the band with her distinctively husky vocals, accompanied by husband Cliff Ward on banjo, guitar, violin and vocals. They are joined by Cliff’s sister Prue, who is a superb, sensitive fiddler; Ben Savage, a dynamic dobro and guitar player; and Evan Carson on bodhrán, drums and percussion. Most of the songs here are self-penned.

The CD opens with Red Sands, a winsome song that interweaves Welsh tales of those forced to move from the land they love and cherished memories of childhood holidays on Norfolk. Visiting Robin Hoods Bay, they learned the tale of The Visitor which was shipwrecked on 19 January 1881 and how the Whitby lifeboat, led by Coxswain Henry Freeman, was carried eight miles through snowdrifts and thick blizzards. They launched in Robin Hoods Bay and all The Visitors’ crew were saved.

The compelling, banjo driven Johnny Robson tells of a man who throws himself into the fire after seeing an apparition of his dead wife. Cliff takes the lead vocal on Shores, about America’s early Irish immigrants working on the Central Pacific Railroad, while Jade poignantly sings the Irish ballad Maid Of Culmore. Wave reverses a common song theme of yearning to return home to civilization, with a desire to stay away and linger in isolation for a little longer. They learned Utah Phillips’ Goodnight Loving Trail from the singing of Sara Grey. Delving into the Full English digital archives they found a version of Faithful Sailor Boy collected by Francis Collinson in Kent – this is reinterpreted and set to a new melody in Outward Bound. There is also an infectiously catchy reading of Bill Staines’ Roseville Fair, a song Ben was greatly drawn to.

The Willows delight in delivering vivid narrative songs and are a compelling in- demand live act. They have a growing reputation as inspired musicians and innovative songwriters.

Kathy & Bob Drage

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.