Folkier reinventions of a hard-rocking past.
This EP (5 tracks) is the debut release from new Scottish outfit, Boulder Fields, consisting of singer/songwriter Cam Fraser, fiddle player Amy Geddes and mandolin player Iain McCleod. It’s a powerful combination of talents, with Amy & Iain both having worked with established roots bands like Tannas and Shooglenifty, so there’s quality musicianship on show right from the start.
The EP is made up of reworked versions of some of Cam Fraser’s older songs, a situation that came about because illness disrupted a recording session that should have involved a more extended band lineup. Determined to get something out of their Falkirk trip the three decided to record more stripped-down versions of these older songs. It seems to have been an inspired move because what we have here are five very listenable tracks on the folkier side of americana, boasting strong melodies and some clever lyrics.
Fraser’s previous band experience was with Scottish alt.rock bands, Cateran and Borrowed Books, but he seems to have found his niche in folk/americana music, if this brief example is anything to go by. In common with other artists releasing recordings following the pandemic lockdowns, it seems that Fraser has had the time and opportunity to revisit folk influences of his youth and reconnect with acoustic music. Interestingly, these tracks were intended as demos to indicate the band’s direction, but they sound much more complete than that description might indicate, and this bodes well for future recordings from the band.
The E.P kicks off with ‘Cage’, and it sets the band’s stall out well. We have Cam Frazer’s easy, light tenor voice backed up by his own guitar and excellent fiddle work from Amy Geddes and mandolin and banjo from Iain McCleod, who both contribute on vocal harmonies. The repeated phrase, “well, more or less” is the hook that stays with you and drives this song home. Next up is ‘Things Put Away’, another easy on the ear, quite lilting track that makes it difficult to believe that these songs were originally written with quite aggressive rock music in mind, given that they sit so easily in this folky style.
‘Weight of a River’ features some quite beautiful mandolin work from McCleod but it does serve to expose some of the limitations of the three-piece format. On this 5 song release, it doesn’t really matter but, over the course of a longer recording, there’s that suspicion that the dominance of fiddle and mandolin could become wearing. Cam Fraser has said that he’s quite comfortable with his guitar parts being buried by the musical abilities of his partners, but he’ll need to lose that sense of comfort going forward because, once this band starts recording longer format releases, they’re going to need more variety in their sound. McCleod and Geddes are, without doubt, superb players, but even the best players will struggle to bring enough variety to the sound when there’s a limited combination on offer. Fraser will need to bring his guitar more to the fore in future in order to mix things up a bit. The same is true of their vocal sound. Fraser has a very listenable voice but, on these five songs, he takes all the leads and the only variation is offered by the harmony vocals that, mainly, come from Amy Geddes. Apparently, McCleod also contributes backing vocals occasionally, but they’re overshadowed by Geddes’ contribution and you do get the feeling that there’s a strong female voice that could be used for more than just occasional harmonies. Of course, these are early days and this is a very interesting band still finding its feet. It will be very interesting to hear how they develop their sound going forward.
This release is completed with the tracks ‘Northerly’ and ‘Monstrous’. The first was written for a friend fighting cancer and may well be the strongest track on the E.P. It does separate itself a little from the other tracks, partly because the fiddle and mandolin are held back at the start of the song, but the song itself has a bleak beauty that really does shine through. Finally, we have ‘Monstrous’, which is a great disc closer; a fun song that, like all the best fun songs, has some real weight to it and is cleverly written. We all know there’s a monstrous side to humanity, the trick is in keeping it in check – “It’s painful and it’s lonely/ Knowing there’s a monstrous side of me/ But maybe you’ve got monster/ Somewhere in your family tree/ And maybe you’re part monster/ Just the same as me”.
It seems this song was originally written with the intention of a female harmony part in the second verse, but this was never achieved when it was originally recorded. Being able to revisit it in this way, and having such a strong harmony vocalist available this time around, means that Cam Fraser has finally been able to achieve what he wanted from this song and it proves a vision worth achieving.
This is a strong debut from a band with a very interesting sound and boasting superb musicians. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.
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