Monday, 3 March 2014

PHILLIP HENRY & HANNAH MARTIN

CD Review

Mynd

When a couple, and they are a couple in the romantic sense, win the Radio2 Folk Award for Best Duo you expect something special on their albums and Mynd doesn't disappoint. It has a wonderfully understated opening in Silbury Hill with the gentle banjo picking of Phillip Henry and then Hannah Martin's voice slides in like a silk scarf over a crystal ball.

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin receiving the Best Duo award
There is something almost hypnotic even spiritual about this whole album, so much so it should be put on a list of NHS therapies because it just has the kind of sounds which wash over you and draw out tension and stress and leaves you feeling more like you have experienced the sounds, not just listened to them.
If this sounds poncy or pretentious then give it a try for yourself.
Without doubt the highlight of the album is The Nailmakers Strike Pt 1 & 2 again with the gentle lead in of the soothing guitar picking of Henry and the soft slide of the bow across the fiddle strings produce a luxurious sound which eventually drops and then feed you a more raucous sound which comes in as the harmonica rasps almost like a train chugging past your window.
Henry almost gives the harmonica a voice and the cadence emulates the beat of the hammers you would expect to hear in a nailmaker's shop which more often than not would be some poor beggar's home where the whole family would work away for a pittance making nails.
The song is adapted from a traditional song Poverty Knock which was covered by Chumbawamba on their English Rebel Songs album. Henry and Martin take the traditional and weave strands of the modern, including beatbox and reggae, into it to great effect.
Chumbawamba's rebel songs
The whole feel of this album is atmospheric, almost ethereal and Martin's gorgeous caramel tones are very reminiscent of June Tabor, there are times when if you close your eyes all but the most discerning would be able to tell the two apart. This is also true of Song for Caroline Herschel where once again Henry's slide guitar is used wonderfully to create that other-worldliness sound.
Martin's viola opens Thirty Miles with such a mournful, lamenting sound and feels like it came right out of the soundtrack of O Brother Where Art Thou? This is another of the tracks where Henry provides the main vocals.
The Last Broadcast is where you get to really hear the influences Henry picked up during his time in India and learning the native music. He uses the sounds sparingly but it's such an exotic sound that you feel you want more. Henry's skill on strings is shown to full effect and listening to his luscious playing is like a musical journey around the world.
The hypnotic intro to Elegy is a little like Ravi Shankar meets Ry Cooder and has that haunting quality you hear in the sitar guru's playing or the intros to films such as Southern Comfort or Paris, Texas. It genuinely is the kind of sound you could listen to all day long, it's like a hot bath made of music.
Ry Cooder's
great soundtrack
This is followed by another lament which is arguably the weakest track on the album.Whitsun Dance is about the wives and women left behind during the First World War. Martin's voice doesn't carry the emotion of the earlier tracks and the richness of the sounds are not quite there either although the lyrics do hold up this song and Martin's fiddle playing does add a lovely strand of feeling. This segues into Sportsman's Hornpipe/The Banks of the Nile which is another track that alludes to war.
Henry leads you in with slide guitar to where you think this may just pick up into the traditional and jaunty hornpipe but it never materialises, instead it slides into Martin's lonesome calling before Henry again takes over with a guitar interlude. This is such a simple song where the duo use their talents in a minimalistic way to fantastic effect.
The much lighter Miss Willmott's Ghost brings in the understated sound of the banjo and runs a thread behind Martin's voice with a harmonica, just enough to give it that bluegrass/mountain feel without it sliding too much into Americana.
Waterland is a really ethereal song told by a will o the wisp and is one of those wonderful narrative songs rooted in the people of the land which inspired it and really deserves to be turned into a short film or animation using the song as the soundtrack.
Henry & Martin's album
The album winds up with Silver Box which is the fastest track on the album and in some ways the most macabre. The story having elements of the gothic and the dark romance of the old unsanitised fairy tales none more so when you discover the contents of the box of the title.
Mynd comes with a bonus track Close Your Eyes. Which is a lovely light lullaby-style song in which Henry takes on the vocals and Martin adds the harmonies. Fans of the duo will recognise it because it's one of their favourite closing songs for their live shows.
Mynd, which is an old word for mind, is aptly titled because these songs will stick in yours.

Mynd is out on the Dragonfly Roots label.







The Mike Harding Folk Show