Progressive Folk album reviews column

Paul Sexton’s pick of acoustic-styled songsmiths, old and new, with the latest releases from Lankum, David Thomas Broughton, Jon Boden, Megan Henwood and Chris Simmons

Lankum album cover

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The transformation from psychedelic folk punk to acoustic folklore may sound like identity theft, but it’s one that Irish quartet Lankum carry off with confidence. They have, probably wisely, abandoned their former handle, Lynched, for its negative connotations, trading it for, um, the name of the child-murdering villain in the classic ballad False Lankum, by Irish traveller John Reilly Jr. Frying pans and fires come to mind. But as proved by their second album (and first for Rough Trade) Between The Earth And The Sky, they’ve gone from punkish notions of headbutting tradition to a determination to celebrate it. Shared lead vocals and tight harmonies lubricate melodies both aged and original, from the almost street-cry feel of What Will We Do When We Have No Money to measured yet intense instrumentalism such as The Townie Polka. Accordions, fiddles and creativity abound on this new and old sound bubbling up from Dublin.

David Thomas Broughton’s trilogy Crippling Lack (Song By Toad, among other labels) is afforded new focus by the English enigma’s current, extensive UK tour, which stretches into mid-December at folk clubs up and down the land. Broughton’s instrumentation is as uncommon as a voice that almost recalls Antony of the Johnsons, his songs suffused with an affable strangeness that would have caught the ear of Ivor Cutler or Vivian Stanshall.

Former Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden is also out touring the Afterglow album (Hudson), with which he resumes his solo oeuvre. After a dozen years amid that band’s modern folk forays, he now steps closer to the softer end of AOR as, say, Runrig did. But Boden tends to use less electricity, generally preferring the acoustic textures that enfold his voice, such as among the percussion and strings of Bee Sting. Moods undulate from reflective, such as on Fires Of Midnight, to bright-eyed, on All The Stars Are Coming Out Tonight.

Megan Henwood is another young Brit of bold acoustic creativity who broadens her palette with every release. 2015’s exceptional Head, Heart, Hand was a tough act to follow, but she’s done just that with her third albumRiver (Dharma). Ever-inquisitive, Henwood doesn’t just repeat that winning formula but conducts new experiments in alt-folk, this time with elements of jazz and electronica. ‘Elements’ is the keyword, too, with recurring watery themes (notably on Fresh Water, with a terrific trumpet solo by Jonny Enser) and observations on the world outside her door. Join The Dots is another early favourite, but her sensuous voice and delicate songcraft repay every new play.

Finally, Brighton-based troubadour Chris Simmons offers the stylishly harmonised Gold Dust on his recent, self-released double-sided single, along with the heartfelt, vulnerable The Deepest Wound. An album is due for release next year.

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.