Sam Lee “Old Wow” (Cooking Vinyl, 2020)

It has to be admitted, Dear Reader, that this writer isn’t a great fan of the folkier end of the ouvre. However, this writer isn’t an idiot (generally speaking) and can tell a bloody great record when they hear one. Which is what we have on our hands here, with Sam Lee’s ‘Old Wow’. This writer will elaborate. Firstly, Lee has wrangled Elizabeth Fraser in to providing more than just backing vocals – she is rare indeed these days, and is rarely anything other than brilliant. Added to this the near genius production skills of Bernard Butler give the essential traditional folk songs amazing pathos in  a depth and dynamics rarely heard in the genre. One imagines a vinyl copy of the record would absolutely explode out of the speakers. If Cooking Vinyl are reading this, big hint… Lee himself, something of a polymath, is heavily involved with environmental activism, hanging with and contributing to Extinction Rebellion’s work; entirely fitting for someone so embedded with the traditional folk sounds of a disappearing rural Britain.

Opening track The Garden Of England’ starts us out with a tabla-drive, Eastern mystic vibe; our garden withering and dying in front of us. ‘Lay This Body Down’ has an almost Tom Waits-like funereal stomp. It’s a very impressive track. ‘The Moon Shines Bright’ is where Fraser lends her voice, adding an angelic excerpt from ‘Will Ye Go Lassie Go’ into Lee’s dramatic pipes and fiddles lament. Lee performs ‘Sweet Sixteen’ as if he owns it; the ploughboys leaving naught but the babe in arms as a torch song, Lee’s English baritone flipping the gender narrative. Closing track ‘Balfanen’ is rendered as a folky soundscape; the finishing touches to Lee’s bleakness in bucolic-ness.

Traditional folk given drama and darkness by a star cast. Excellent.
9/10

Author: Mark Nenadic

Quite likes music. Doesn't really like people. From The North. Exiled in The Midlands due to radical views on whippets/flat caps. Beards and plaid shirts belong on Willie Nelson. Everybody else should smarten up a bit ..

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