The Woodbine & Ivy Band: Sleep On Sleeping On (CD, Static Caravan, March 2015)

This album finds the Manchester-based collective (I count eleven members, plus guests) exploring the wilder edges of the folk world, and pretty great it is, too. Musically, there are elements of proggy psychedelia, brassy big-band soul jams, bluesy rock stomps — alongside some rather lovely melodic folk. Naturally, the instrumentation reflects this range, and alongside the guitars we get harp, pedal steel, trumpet & sax, a rather lovely Hammond (but is it a B3???), and even a subtle use of synths. The vocals are more straight-up folky, which is something of a relief, and seems to keep things solidly rooted (despite what you may fear from the foregoing, this record steers well clear of the self-indulgent masturbatory wig-out traps): she is delicate and pure, he is earthy and honest, just as we’ve been taught to expect. Lyrics range from archetypal folk fare such as minstrels and kings, white hares, and encounters with the figure of Death to protests against the arms trade to the hypnotic mantra of the title track. There’s a pretty even mix of originals, covers, and trad arrangements. Because I’m ignorant, I only knew two before this album. The closing track is a simple and pretty heart-rending take on Rebel Soldier, dominated by an almost Goldmundesque piano line and a perfectly raw male vocal, with a splendid mournful trumpet coming in near the end. Most excitingly, to me, is Pretty Fly Lullaby, which is the soundtrack to one of my favourite scenes in the whole of cinema: I adore Charles Laughton’s The Night Of The Hunter, and I especially adore the scene where the children float down the river in their little old skiff… the magical unreality of those sound-stage sets, that gorgeous milky black-and-white photography, the cut-aways of animals, the way it so poetically evokes how the characters are being cut adrift from the only world they knew… and, yes, little Pearl’s beautiful and eerie song. A fantastic highpoint in a fantastic record.

I bought this from Norman Records.

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