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BIRD IN THE BELLY - Neighbours And Sisters 

BIRD IN THE BELLY - Neighbours And Sisters 
GF*M Records GFM011 

Bird In The Belly is a Brighton-based collective bringing together singer-songwriter Ben Webb (“Jinnwoo”), Laura Ward and Adam Ronchetti (the duo Hickory Signals) and multi-instrumentalist/producer Tom Pryor. Although the band’s music sounds resolutely contemporary, albeit with a definite and tangible folk root, almost all their material is sourced and adapted from obscure texts found in the Bodleian Broadside Ballad Archive. The band’s work therefore forms a fascinating bridge between our own alt-folk age and the song-collecting activities of the 1960s folk revivalists, as viewed through the lens of the early practitioners of acid-folk (and with a comparable sense of discovery). In the latter respect it’s possible to glean echoes of early-1970s acts (like Jethro Tull in their rustic phase), but the resonances are heard to go deeper and the band’s sound turns out to be altogether more individual and less referential than the above might imply.

Much of the strange beauty of Bird In The Belly derives from the skilful instrumental settings, but perhaps the band’s most distinctive signature arises from Ben and Laura’s special vocal qualities. Ben’s voice is remarkable – time-worn and gravelly, best exemplified perhaps on character studies such as New Gate Stone and 45 George Street – while Laura’s pure-toned voice can carry shades of Lal Waterson (Bright Light) and Sandy Denny (on Laura’s own composition, Bees). And when both voices sound together (as on Coal Black Wine) the effect is even more captivating.

So Bird In The Belly are pretty much unique, and Neighbours And Sisters proves one of those beguiling albums that demands frequent replay. It’s the band’s second record by the way (The Crowing appeared around 18 months ago, and has since become something of a cult classic), and a stunning illustration of their beguiling, original and visionary take on folk.

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 132 of The Living Tradition magazine