Wednesday 23 April 2014


CD Review

In A Box

Unlike Pandora's, opening Megson's box will expose your world to all that is good with folk music, and to overstretch the analogy, husband and wife team Stu and Debbie Hanna obviously started with a big box to cram so much good music on to one album.

Debbie and Stu Hanna
This is a great folk album, their sixth for those counting, opening with the haunting voice of Debbie which is juxtaposed with the sharper sound of hubby on Clifton Hall Mine, the story of a mining disaster. It is a somber song and underpinned with the appropriate mood music which gives you a taste of the severity of the event.

"At 9.20am on Thursday 18th June 1885, a massive explosion occurred. The ground shook for half a mile around, guardrails on two sides of the pit mouth were blown away and the cages were rendered useless. It was thought that around 200 men were underground at the time."

It almost has the feeling of a hymn and just as you find yourself becoming pensive they pull you up by your bootstraps with a complete change of pace and sound, and it's then you realise, musically they are going to keep you on the hop.
Bet Beesley & Her Wooden Man has a wonderfully devilish narrative about a wife who finds out on her wedding night that her husband is not all he seems. The Hannas' voices are carried along by the decadent and almost mocking music.
Once again as your toes have got into tapping mood the pace is changed with the gentle voice of Mrs Hanna bringing in Charlie The Newsmonger which evokes all kinds of connections from Sandy Denny to Jethro Tull. Vocally Mr Hanna takes a back seat on this one, adding harmonies and mandolin, and, when she is not singing, Debbie throws in the silky sound of her recorder.
Just on this one track alone there is so much to enjoy and listen to, much like the whole album - there is no way you can take it all in by just listening to it once.
Mr Hanna comes to the fore on The River Never Dies which is a musical history lesson set on and around the River Tees and takes you through half a century of living alongside the snaking waterway. This is the first track on the album where the Hannas, who are now based in Cambridgeshire, are responsible for both the music and lyrics and they have captured their Teeside roots perfectly in their sound.
Tommy Armstrong
Another of their own compositions follows with Songs To Soothe A Tired Heart. As you can guess from the title it's a gentle ballad, originally designed to be a lullaby. This time their voices are helped along with the talents of Ben Savage on dobro, Jade Rhiannon on backing vocals and the really lush sound of the fiddle from Cliff Ward.
They get ultra-traditional with Old Folks Tea, not surprising really since the lyrics come from Pitman Poet, Tommy Armstrong but they do it proud with their modern but sympathetic music. The song is about something as mundane as a tea party and yet there is nothing ordinary about the upbeat tune which paints a vivid picture of all the people gathered for the tea outing in Durham, how much more British can you get?
Dirty Clothes will defy you not to get nostalgic about your childhood and how we all succumb to the passage of time. This is just a wonderfully simple song that will strike a chord with everyone who listens to it. It has very much the feel of a Lindisfarne song which is not really surprising considering they sing in their native North Eastern twang.
Many will find Still I Love Him very familiar but Debbie's lilting voice backed up by the equally sweet sound of Jess Morgan and underpinned by the gentle strumming of the guitar give it a new lease of life and stamps the Hannas' mark on it.
The album
Moses Carpenter is another song based in true and local events about a native American Mohawk who was part of a travelling medicine show in the 19th century. Storytelling doesn't get much better than this with Mrs Hanna's sweet voice gently telling his life story. This is how news bulletins should be put together.
Too soon the final and title track comes around but In A Box is a man's song, it's not for you girls. It's too near the truth to listen to with someone else around. Every man should sit alone and listen to this sporting a self-satisfied grin knowing you still have most of the stuff the gentle ballad sings about.
In A Box is a fantastic album evocative, thoughtful, original and so many more adjectives you could fill a box with but more than anything it's a testament to the Hannas' insightful music making and lyric writing. This is one album that isn't going to stay in the box.

In A Box is released on May 12 on EJD Records but there is an earlier digital release on April 28 through Proper Music.
You can see Megson at the Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury on April 27. Tickets are £15 and the show starts 7.30pm.

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