Jim Ghedi – A Hymn for Ancient Land

Album Review | Basin Rock | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Rob Young’s fascinating book, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britains Visionary Music successfully expands an examination of English Folk Music, looking backwards and forwards at that peculiarly British strand of pastoral music, connecting Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd and Apex Twin.  On the other side of the world, the Aboriginal People believe in Songlines or dreaming tracks and connect traditional music strongly to place with songs describing landscapes.  The brass on Roy Harper’s “When an Old Cricketer” and the lyrics together evoke a rich sense of Englishness, as do the wry melancholic lyrics of Nick Drake, or the acoustic guitar of Nic Jones on “Courting is a Pleasure”.  All of these strands, come together on this album, a sense of place, a sense of pastoral honesty and integrity and a sense of being connected.  A Hymn for Ancient Land is simply that, a celebration of The Moss Valley, Ghedi’s spiritual and physical home and other places he feels connected to.  Jim Ghedi is a masterful musician and writer, and like a pagan lightning rod running backwards, the power of the landscape he describes flows back up through his feet, his body and out into the air.  “Home for Moss Valley” celebrates the place of Ghedi’s upbringing and is a gloriously powerful soundscape.  Atmospherics and some crystalline piano notes shimmer around some huge guitar chords, Jim like Michael Chapman, knows how to wring everything ounce of emotion out of a big guitar strum, playing the air around the instrument as well as the strings themselves.  Cello, Double Bass and Violin add some melancholia, avoiding cloying sentimentality as deftly as anything Robert Kirby arranged.  This is beauty, but a savage beauty that leaves you breathless.  “Cwm Elan” has a lighter touch, guitars and harp are a lyrical shorthand for journeys through the Welsh Cambian landscape, walks taken, sights seen and conversations had.  Ghedi’s love of the places he describes and sense of wonder is palpable and infectious as he recounts his travels like a musical Richard Long.  “Bramley Moor” features a wonderfully deft cyclical guitar, reminiscent of Michael Chapman or an English John Fahey, the knotted frenetic pace describing the battle with frackers to protect the five mile valley the tune describes.  “Fortingall Yew” a stand out track on a stand out album is a stunning guitar and cello piece, layering Jim’s electric and acoustic guitars into a sublime series of knots and branches.  The hymn to an example of Britain’s longest lived native tree is crying out to be on a playlist to accompany Roger Deakins mindful writings on woods and wild swimming that are name checked in Ghedi’s excellent sleeve notes.  “Phoenix Works” is an altogether edgy piece, a wonderful evocation of the settlements of Ridgeway and Ford, pre-eminent for hundreds of years in the industry of scythe and sickle makers.  The lyric, a powerfully delivered over some powerful electrical guitar, is in part the remaining fragment of a poem written by one of the workers and part Ghedi’s extrapolation of that workers life.  Part reflection, part work song this is another album highlight.  The line “now this land has spoke” is an apt by-line for this excellent album.  Ghedi’s voice as he tells the workers story is a rich instrument, shaped in Sheffield, it is hewn from broadly the same landscape that he describes and that just adds to its power and integrity.  Dipping into his Irish heritage “Banks of Mulroy Bay” is a traditional tune, starting as a crystalline piano duet and ending as a beautiful folk song delivered by Jim Ghedi like a church hymn.  The mix of Jim’s voice and the harmonium is just beautiful.  “Sloade Lane” is Jim Ghedi playing some very pastoral guitar that would make John Renbourn smile with some sensitive brass accompaniment.  Like the sky overhead Ghedi’s guitar links all of these pieces together a beautiful foil to all of the rich elements on this stunning album.  From his beginnings on his first album as a deft and dexterous guitarist, an English Jack Rose or William Tyler, like Nick Jonah Davis, who also plays on this album, Ghedi is developing into a complex musician with a lot to say and interesting ways of saying it.