Poor Strange Girl
Just as the prospectors of old filled with excitement when finding that one nugget of solid gold so comes the shining debut album of super-talented, Yorkshire songstress Alice Jones.
Jones is joined, on this impressive showcase of her singing, songwriting and musical talents, by Tom Kitching - from the wonderful Pilgrims' Way - and Hugh Bradley from The Whisky Priests.
The opening and title track has a folk pedigree that is as impressive as its execution. You know from the style it's Americana but Jones puts her northern stamp on the dark tale.
This is followed by arguably the best track on the album. Woody Knows Nothing is a gentle ballad about love which has nothing but Jones' lovely soft tones which she highlights with wonderfully minimalist piano playing. This is one of those songs you can play over and over and never get tired of hearing it.
The Larkman/The Herron Tree (sic) are the first of the instrumental tunes on the album and have a real history, almost Medieval feel to them even though they were created by Jones. Her talent for the whistle comes to the fore on the first tune skipping the notes along at a fair old pace, and Kitching keeps step on the fiddle. They crank things up a notch for the second part almost as if racing each other.
Jones then brings her version of The Cruel Mother to the table. Her voice is more storyteller than singer and is suitably dour for this ballad about child killings with her harmonium adding a brooding and sinister edge to this well-travelled tale.
The haunting sound of her piano playing brings in her arrangement of Green Bushes a good solid folk tale of philandering. Jones' singing is subtle, serene and superb as she performs it almost as a hymn. Her singing is accented again by her gentle keyboard skills with Kitching coming in with a lovely lilting harmony on the strings. Jones' voice comes with a real clarity that pushes out every syllable as though exhibiting them as separate entities.
She does know how to wring every drop out of notes she plays on the keyboard. Nothing is wasted and her arrangement of Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still is put together and executed with laser precision to create a song which borders on the spiritual.
It's one of the longest tracks on the album and she has that gentleness of word you associate with Ange Hardy.
Frank Kidson's collection is plundered for When I Am Far Away. Jones' singing style lends itself perfectly to this broadside and you realise just how uncluttered her tunes are. Kitching's rasping sound on the fiddle and the resonance of the harmonium are enough to carry the clarity of her singing.
Jones' goes back to her whistle playing for the third of the instrumentals, Digerpolskan/The Duhk Street Reel. The first part has the feel of a lonely shepherd playing for his own amusement as he watches the flock grazing. The second part picks up the pace up with the whistle turning over a tune which has a strong ethnic feel to it.
Adieu To Old England is a tale of recession and how lives are affected with ordinary things in life standing as metaphors for how people struggle with even the basics of everyday existence. Jones uses a very matter of fact style of singing which seems to echo the bleakness of the narrative for what is the longest track on the album.
Jones goes back to her storytelling style for her arrangement of The Castle By the Sea which is another died-the-wool folk tale of intrigue, treachery and death. She slows down the narrative to the point where she is almost orating the tale from a book. There seems to be a disparity between her singing and the fiddle accompaniment so the instrumental is always noticeable but somehow it works.
|The debut album|
This may be a debut album but Jones already has an impressive track record of festivals and sessions work behind her as well as a deep interest in folk music, all of which has culminated in a first album which is a shining example of just how good British folk can be.
Poor Strange Girl is out now on the Splid label and distributed by Proper Music.
You can catch Jones live from August 5 to 7 at The Dartmoor Folk Festival.