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STICK IN THE WHEEL - From Here: English Folk Field Recordings

STICK IN THE WHEEL - From Here: English Folk Field Recordings
Private Label SITW005

Stick In The Wheel has found a novel way around that old problem of the tricky second album. They've got other people to perform it for them. Their debut album caused quite a stir when it was released in 2015 and SITW quickly became just about the most acclaimed new band around. Naturally, we wanted to know what they would do next. The answer is that they embarked on a tour of England with a mobile studio.

They set out to take “a snapshot of English folk music right now”. Whether they succeeded depends very much on whether you agree with their taste. Two members of SITW have tracks to themselves, with Nicola Kearey's Marmite voice – love it or hate it – belting out a version of Georgie that you will not confuse with anybody else's. Fran Foote's rendition of The Irish Girl is more conventional but equally persuasive. The bulk of the album, however, is devoted to getting singers and musicians to perform material that SITW, were they not self-declared latecomers to the folk scene, would probably dismiss as over-familiar.

In fact, some of the more memorable tracks fall into that category, like Sam Lee dwelling lovingly on The Wild Rover, and Jon Boden explaining how he remembered Fathom The Bowl from singing around the campfire at the Forest Schools Camps. The contributors have had a free hand in choosing their material and the opportunity to add their observations. Sometimes a stripped-down version opens up new depths in a song, like a rough and grainy take on The Sea, unrecognisable here from Eliza Carthy's full band version on Big Machine. That amounts to a theme in itself; no trickery, no sophistication, no overdubs, just two microphones and the truth. In the case of Carthy Senior, it means revisiting a song long absent from his repertoire, the infernally catchy Bedmaking. For some, that means going back to their roots with a song that kick-started their love affair with the music, but which they had never recorded, like Fay Hield's version of Anne Briggs' Bonny Boy.

Not everything works. There is a truly horrible version of Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew, for instance. But, as a contemporary sampler of traditional English music, it's a thoroughly interesting collection. What it fails to do, of course, is answer the question of what Stick In The Wheel will do next in their own right. That remains a fascinating prospect.

Dave Hadfield

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This album was reviewed in Issue 117 of The Living Tradition magazine.