Progressive Folk album reviews column

Paul Sexton’s pick of acoustic-styled songsmiths, old and new, featuring Lianne Hall, William The Conqueror, The Black Guards, Jenny Lindfors, Ashley Hutchings, Anne Briggs and Stackridge

Lianne Hall - The Caretaker album artwork

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We’re a little late in our admiration for Lianne Hall’s The Caretaker. John Peel, no less, was an admirer of the British-born, Berlin-based singer and writer, and as ever, he knew of which he spoke. Released a little earlier this year by Market Square, it’s a greatly accomplished body of work. The album gazes on a folky landscape, but with subtly electronic instrumentation and Hall’s compelling vocals, sometimes recalling KT Tunstall, the effect is often hypnotic. The Crow’s Nest is particularly mesmeric, and The Last Song Of The Caretaker has melancholic poise.

Cards should also be marked for William The Conqueror, the new recording vehicle of Scottishborn but Cornwall-based troubadour Ruarri Joseph. His solo work, which once had him signed to Atlantic Records, has moved via a folky ambience to an ever more indie sound and mentality. The group’sIn My Dreams combines a great guitar groove, incisive lyrics and Joseph’s Cat Stevens-esque voice, and is a great preview of the album Proud Disturber Of The Peace, due later in the summer via Loose.

Among other singles, The Black Guards, folk rock crusaders of west Cumbria, debut with Drawn In (Folkstock). The six-piece reportedly whip up a storm as a live act, fiddles, pipes, mandolins and all. The single strums with plaintive urgency and it’s a promising appetiser. Also try Jenny Lindfors in her nom de disque of Sailing Stones, on the stunningly pretty, self-released The Blazing Sun. Street Cries (Talking Elephant) is a collection of traditional songs reclothed for modern times by Ashley Hutchings – who else? Recorded in 2001, it’s rich in both historical imagery and latter-day expression, in the hands of such stylists as Cara Dillon, John Tams, Dick Gaughan and the aforementioned June Tabor.

Estimable north London reissue specialists Earth Recordings breathe new life into Anne Briggs’ seminal The Time Has Come. The English folk singer is often cited as a musical mentor by Richard Thompson, June Tabor and many others. Her second LP, originally on CBS in 1971, was a staging post in moving beyond the traditional songs of her first set and showcasing some of her own, as well as those of Lal Waterson, Henry McCulloch and others. Briggs’ voice is steadfastly graceful, the settings quintessentially English and her playing fleet-fingered, on instrumentals such as Highlodge Hare and Clea Caught A Rabbit. Finally, congratulations to the Angel Air label, who mark their 20th anniversary with their 500th release, aptly by one of their core bands, erstwhile folk-rock staples Stackridge. The Final Bow, Bristol 2015 is a double CD recorded at their final concert at that city’s Fiddlers Club some 18 months ago. It’s a fitting keepsake of a show that reached all the way back to early favourites such as Lummy Days and Dora The Female Explorer.

Paul Sexton

Prog Magazine contributor Paul Sexton is a London-based journalist, broadcaster and author who started writing for the national UK music press while still at school in 1977. He has written for all of the British quality press, most regularly for The Times and Sunday Times, as well as for Radio Times, Billboard, Music Week and many others. Sexton has made countless documentaries and shows for BBC Radio 2 and inflight programming for such airlines as Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific. He contributes to Universal's uDiscoverMusic site and has compiled numerous sleeve notes for the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and other major artists. He is the author of Prince: A Portrait of the Artist in Memories & Memorabilia and, in rare moments away from music, supports his local Sutton United FC and, inexplicably, Crewe Alexandra FC.