(5 / 5)
I don’t usually “do” compilations. In my personal music collection or to review as a music journalist. I find many can be regurgitated “Best Of” collections of stuff that I have already on the original albums, or mediocre previously rejected material that the artist or the record label, or both, previously deemed not good enough to release.
But sometimes, I come across a compilation that offers up something different, something pretty special and something well worthy of support, and widespread attention. A gold nugget among the donkey droppings so to speak!
As is very much the case here. A double disc affair, which gives us 20 top quality and versatile tracks that fit into the alt. folk and new roots categories, and offer a refreshing array of new and established talent that many will not have come across before.
It’s a lovely job as a sampler and a calling card for these young talents who all deserve the exposure. (But people die of exposure, I hear you cry! Sorry….) It’s a new record label set up by the guys behind a folk gig listing website, and this album has been curated by alt. folk promoters New Roots who know their stuff about who’s hot and who’s not in this scene.
Nothing cold or luke warm here…It’s diverse and vibrant stuff, and most of the artists here are independent and have no backing from record labels or monied-management. They sit outside the folk music establishment too, and stay under the radar and thrive on word of mouth gigs in intimate venues where the main focus is not money, status or a power trip, but the music.
The contract rider’s most extravagant demand would be that the venue has a roof and power supply, perhaps! A real listening experience; not for those seeking a boozy night out where you chat to your mates and pee off the majority of the audience and disrespect the artists on stage.
It is a big ask for me to select just a few tracks as the “standout cuts” among these 20, because no BS, it is all really, really good. When the PR sent me a link to access this album pre-release, he had to remind me I had it and chase me up to get me to have a listen. It wasn’t on my priority list, to be honest, and I didn’t expect much. But when the physical CD arrived and I stuck it on, within the first few tracks, I was sold.
I smiled to see among the PR bumph, a quote about the band who pop up on the second track here on CD # 1, Ma Polaine’s Great Decline. It lifts a quote from a previous review of this band and this track from their own album: “Crying out to be used on soundtracks. A very cinematic sound.” A review in a major music magazine, which I wrote when their own album came out.
There is a family vibe among this bright scene. Many of these artists play on each other’s songs, share a producer, a studio, a stage; many shared experiences. This musical movement is not limited to just the artists on this record. Many, many more out there working in this alt. folk arena, so “Sonic Blooms” is merely a glimpse through the keyhole of the house of alt. folk and new roots music in the UK; fast emerging as an exciting breath of fresh air in what some see as the stale and wee bit “elite” traditional folk scene today.
The first disc opens with Firefly Burning’s “Beloved” which is a beautiful female-fronted track produced by Talk Talk’s Tim Friese-Green. Then the Ma Polaine cut “Been Loved Too Much”. Not sad to hear that one again. Brooke Sharkey delivers “Faces”, an artist who The Guardian placed in the “50 most exciting independent artists in the world”. Make your own mind up about that.
The Nightjar, “Cockleshell”, Mishaped Pearls, “Six Dukes”, a Guy Garvey favourite on BBC6 Music next from Low Chimes and “Blood Orange”. The strangely named “Waiting For P To Have A Vision” from Jinnwoo – who the Independent newspaper rave about. Three more to finish off the first disc, from Leonie Evans, Sisika and Robert Chaney & Laura Tenschert; the latter is an exclusive recording for this release.
Aother 10 cuts to come on the second CD, kicking off with Whiskey Moonface and then the Radio 2 Folk Awards ‘Best Duo’ winners, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker with “I Never Learned French”. They were signed by Rough Trade Records in 2016. Brooke Sharkey, who has his own track on the first CD, pops up again on cut # three on “The Same Sea”, but this time he is singing backing vocals for Adam Beattie & The Consultants.
Ned Roberts, Samantha Whates, Benedict Benjamin, MG Boulter and “Clifftown” – an exclusive for this album – take up slots four, five, six and seven. Uncut, Mojo and The Telegraph sing the praises of MG Boulter.
The fabulous Ferris & Sylvester offer up “Save Yourself”, produced by the legendary punk bassist and producer Youth, a lovely chap who I have met and photographed. Rolling Stone magazine say that Ferris & Sylvester are among the Top 10 new alt. country acts you need to hear. I would not disagree.
The penultimate cut comes from Sailing Stones, before the closer, Tobias Ben Jacob and “Parallel”, an unreleased track thus far. This one features Emily Barker from Red Clay and Halo, Phillip Henry, who is a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner and John Elliot from The Little Unsaid.
No fillers here on either disc. A gorgeous showcase for some shining talents who will go on to achieve success in their chosen fields. How big that success gets is out of their hands somewhat. You can help; by buying this record, telling all your family and friends to do the same; choose your fave tracks, drench social media with praise and go see some of these acts live. Buy their records too.
Power of the people brings down Governments, so it sure can help a hungry independent musician to put bread on the table and attract a bigger audience to their work, eh? Blooming great job chaps…(see what I did there?)
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’