Friday 16 August 2013


CD Review


Whalebone is made up of excellent musicians who are clearly experts at their craft. You only have to listen to the first track, Origins, on their latest and fourth album Runes to realise how accomplished, finely attuned and in touch with the sound they create, they are.

Runes the latest and fourth album from Whalebone
The Shropshire band comprises Steve Downs, on a variety of guitars, mandolin and percussion, Charlotte Watson on guitar and percussion and Sarah Ibberson on fiddle and cello.
Whalebone do not really do vocals they concentrate purely on the music and that attention to detail shows in every track on the album, which come from a weird and wonderful collection of inspirations not least of which is Mog’s Reel which originates from Downs’ Mini car which is the Mog of the title.
The guitar playing on this and every track is precise, crisp and while paying homage to the traditions of folk somehow has the clean construction which is bang up to date.
There are two questionable tracks on the album, not that they are played with any less expertise than the others, it’s just that they don’t really sit easy among the rest of the tracks and they are Paint it Black/Devil in the Kitchen and Downs’ arrangement of Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla.
Of the two Paint/Devil is perhaps more acceptable in that it is an original interpretation and the folksiness of it feels genuine and not just forced into a well-known tune. However, this said the tunes do not detract from an album full of incredibly complex and enjoyable sounds.
One of the most interesting and certainly emotive tracks on it is Christchurch Cathedral, which gives Ibberson free rein to show off her talent for strings, especially when you consider it was written for a four piece outfit and the musician plays all the instruments herself.
Whalebone from left Charlotte Watson. Steve Downs
and Sarah Ibberson
Whalebone has a wonderful talent for creating images which is almost akin to painting with sound. Even the partial lament, The Birds Are Still Singing which, while carrying a sadness and melancholia, it is not overly morose or depressing and has that ability to carry you off over lakes, seas and mountains to wherever your imagination wants to take you.
With its almost classical and distinctive sound the baritone eight-string guitar is let loose by Downs for Justify, a complicated two-part track the first of which, although obviously modern, somehow manages to capture an essence of medieval gallery musicians. The second, and much racier part, really shows Taylor’s talent and expertise on this instrument and creates the sound of which feels like a mixture of bluegrass, country and Celtic dance music.
Perhaps the most traditional track on the album is Ducks on the Roof which has a rockier undertone to it but the slick fiddle playing keeps it firmly grounded on the traditional folk side and the blend of the two instruments and interwoven changes of pace create a real toe-tapper which will probably be much wilder when played live. The musicians will then have free rein to improvise and hammer their instruments to whip up their audiences.
Scarce O’ Tatties should go down well with any gigs north of the border, it was written by a Scot who was appalled by the lack of decent spuds in London. This is another toe-tapper which grabs you right from the opening bars with the fiddle and guitars jostling for superiority in a way which is akin to enjoying a musical tennis match.

To round off the album Severn Sins, which is the only track to feature any voices, does have an eclectic feel to the sound, incorporating modern blues with sometimes Latin sounding refrains which then spill over into almost Middle Eastern and even Russian strands of sounds.
This is followed by Tamlin which is perhaps the most progressive sounding piece and feels like it came from a concept album and yet over the top of the excellent musicianship there is still very much that strand with the fiddle and, like Ducks on the Roof, keeps it anchored in the folk camp.
The final track Dream On lulls you into a false sense of security. To begin it has the Grappelli-style fiddle through which the silken-voiced strings draw you in before the long build-up which is reminiscent of Bolero. You are kept on the edge and feel any minute now the big bang is going to happen but to find out whether it does or not you need to get the album.
Runes has so much going for it that it can be enjoyed by non folkies who can quite easily pass it off as classical rock and there is enough folk elements to keep the best finger in the ear traditionalist happy too.

Runes is released on Two Wild Women label on September 15 and is available from for £10.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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