Wednesday 22 November 2017


CD Review

The Poacher’s Fate

Ted Kemp & Laura Smyth

Many folk musicians seem to be caught up in a trend of experimentation and fusion, bringing all manner of musical styles and electronics into their arrangements of traditional tunes and songs. 

So it’s a real treat when you get an album which earths its music very clearly back in the good, rich soil of tradition.

Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp concentrate on their voices to create a collection which is an authentic representation of a bygone sound and age. It has the feel of crackling wood fires, tankards of ale clinking in a haze of pipe smoke and travelling players settled at an inn to entertain the locals.

The title track opens the album and straight away the clarity of Smyth’s voice washes over you like plunging your face into a freshly drawn pail of well water. Kemp’s deeper-voiced harmonies complement her singing perfectly in a style which has stood the test of time.

Smyth sings solo on the following track Alizon Device, her own composition. Her voice lies somewhere in between Fay Hield and Nancy Kerr which is in no way a qualitative comparison. All three songstress’ voices are wonderful in their own right.

The song, about an infamous witch trial, is accompanied simply by Kemp on the banjo. The uncluttered nature of the track is like a tonic for the ears.

There is a Tavern will be familiar to almost anyone who has an interest in folk or traditional music. However, the stripped back nature of their performance gives it a real freshness. Kemp is once again there adding the tune with his precise picking.

Kemp swaps roles with Smyth for Murder in the Red Barn. His vocal style is simple, stylish and could be seamlessly transported to the renaissance.
The Pendle witches trial

Smyth’s harmonies almost sneak up on you in their subtlety but they are no less clear for being underneath Kemp’s voice.

Cecilia is sung a Capella by Smyth, which gives you another chance to indulge in her crystal tones. She adopts a style which is somewhere between singing and storytelling where she is able to create drama with her changes in pitch and tone.

The only instrumental on the album is a doublet of Winder’s Hornpipe and the ominously titled Kill Him With Kindness. It’s a gentle, light pair of tunes given character by the shifting tones of Smyth on the concertina.

Smyth brings her voice back for Here’s Adieu to all Judges and Juries. Her voice takes on a deeper tone which reminds a lot of Hannah Martin. But the laser precision of her notes are incredibly piercing in their clarity.

She also provides a rich atmosphere with the growling strings of her cello.

You will be hard pushed to get more traditional than The Brown Hare of Whitebrook which even contains the wonderfully archaic refrain “fol de rol de day”. The song is floated softly along on the tones of Smyth’s squeezebox and Kemp’s gentle guitar.

Brave Benbow is another duet sung a Capella and the perfect blending of the pair’s voices is as harmonious as you could hope for.

Once again Smyth changes the emotion in her voice for The Manchester Angel. The marching style cadence gives it a real strength with Smyth’s cello adds a deep and sad tone to proceedings. Kemp’s understated banjo playing adds an almost sinister tone to the tune.

You have to do a double take when they move into Wild Rover. It’s the traditional song popularised by The Dubliners but their version catches you unawares. It’s only when you catch the lyrics that you realise how familiar they are but surrounded by an unfamiliar arrangement from the two excellent musicians.

The new album
The penultimate track is another a Capella rendering from Smyth who adds strong emotion to Carrickmannon Lake.

As she sings there is no strain in her voice, you get a sense she is holding it at half power but still there is the impressive clarity of tone and precision of words which makes the listener feel they are in the same room.

The final track is a surprise and an unusual way to end the album. It’s Smyth’s grandfather David Smyth reciting a rhyme about County Down in Northern Ireland.

These two people who are steeped in folk music, they are both librarians with Smyth being the Library and Archives Director for the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. This enables them to get under the skin of their music with detailed notes about the songs.

They obviously have a great depth of knowledge and respect for the history of the tunes they have arranged and that comes out in the tight, stripped back and uncluttered songs and tunes they have put together on this album.

The Poacher’s Fate is officially released November 25 on the Broken Token label and available now through the duo’s website, iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

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