KINGS & FOLK - Branching Out
The fashion in recent years to mix folk music styles and traditions under the convenient catch-all label of ‘fusion’ is very much a curate’s egg… good in parts. Too often, adopting a policy of cross-pollination displays a lack of ease with any one genre, a sort of soft option shotgun technique that can be sure of hitting something.
But this group of Worcestershire musicians, Kings & Folk, have actually achieved what many can only aspire to – they have not only produced an album that draws on the English, Irish and Scots tradition, but also stamped each track with their uniquely interesting arrangements and compositions.
For example, the opening Country Rounds makes for a fine statement of intent, employing a jazz timing not normally encountered in this sphere. Happily, the initial promise is soon fulfilled with a tasty coupling of Winter’s Frozen Droplets and the evergreen Scarborough Fair, Ian King’s piano figures running as smoothly as water over the pebbles in the village brook. Some Folks calls to mind the Coventry Carol, given its strong mediaeval seasoning. And Pastime With Good Company maintains the theme, a stately composition by Henry VIII no less, created when he was quite possibly a far more sensitive and less cruel man than the one he would ultimately become.
The former track features guest vocalist Colette Todd, who turns in a powerful rendition later on with the haunting Tree Of Life, an Ian King tune that is part protest, part lament for a murdered Nature.
Claire King’s fiddle dominates the album, defining its form and direction. She brings her husband’s high velocity Balkan Dance and gentler Portencross to life in flurries of single figures and double-stopping. But it is the achingly beautiful The Dark Island that continues to haunt the soul and memory of the listener long after the album has finished, her fiddle weeping its way along a lonely Highland path through a vale of tears that echo to muffled cries of tragedy and loss. Yet she effortlessly manages to create great beauty out of all the anguish.
The Dark Traveller once again showcases Colette Todd’s fragile vocal, a slightly ethereal style that brings Kate Bush to mind.
Throughout the album, the whistle and flute work of Helen Izod and percussion contributions by David King play major roles in propelling the proceedings along. However, it is the marriage of two reels - Kate Dalrymple and Bag Of Praties – that most firmly place Kings & Folk in the aristocracy of contemporary folk music. For although the first is Irish and the other Scottish, the two quite different styles are blended like fine malt whisky, each complementing the other.
Winners of the Bath Folk Festival New Shoots Competition 2013, they are indeed a family of gifted and intelligent players who have quite obviously thought long and hard about their craft. And without doubt, the proof of this is present in great abundance on this finely-honed album of great music.