Album Review | GFM Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5
Through a kind of cyclical Folk reincarnation, the spirt of the original Steeleye Span, the much under rated Psych Folk 70s Band courses through Bird in the Belly. To be clear this is not a Maddy Prior side project, although I think she’d be impressed by this bands stripped back but layered dark Folk. There’s no connections through members, but there is a connection through spirit and intent and a symmetry in the synthesis of both bands. Both met as members performed on Festival bills. Bird in the Belly, comprising of Alt Folk musician Jinnwoo, Traditional Folk duo Hickory Signals, muti-instrumentalist producer and arranger Tom Pryor and visual artist musician Epha Roe all met while performing in earlier incarnations at Cecil Sharp House, as part of a Young Folk Artists celebration organised by Sam Lee’s Nest Collective. A meeting between Ashley Hutchings and Maddy Prior and Tim Hart at Keele Festival planted the seeds for Steeleye. Both Bird in the Belly and the 70s Folk Legends are comprised of existing recording musicians. There is also a big connection through the kind of Gothic Folk Psych music, with its take on traditional music that both bands play. But Bird in the Belly are very much not a homage, or a 70s Alt Folk revisit in the style of the excellent Offa Rex a vehicle for the Folk Rock revival fantasies of The Decemberists and Olivia Chaney. The Alt Folk, Folktronica of Jinwoo, the delicately balanced string arrangements of Tom Pryor and the ethereal piano of Epha Roe means Bird in the Belly occupy a very different world. But there is a connection through intent and spirit, although the musical palettes are very different. “Give Me Back My Heart Again” the opening track begins as a glorious A Capella duet between Jinnwoo and Laura Ward, Hickory Signals vocalist. The two powerful and very different voices twine and work well together. The track sets up the album like “A Calling on Song” on Steeleye’s Hark the Village Wait or Fairport Convention’s “Come All Ye” on Liege and Lief. The pulsing beat of violin and drum carries a kind of Medieval Dance or Morris feel to the second section of the piece. There is a passion and a power, like a summoning or an incarnation taking place around a camp fire. Welsh Ploughboy features the einut of vocative vocals of Jinnwoo and Laura Ward in an arresting arrangement of a fine traditional song. The lyric offers a caution to a labouring young farmer while evoking the heady 70s atmosphere of Traffic’s “John Barleycorn” with a catchy chorus and that sublime flute break. A strong track. “Shoreham River” with its gory refrain about legs and a broken spine contrasting the layers of acoustic guitars, vocals, violin and strings is as Gothic dark as any lost late 60s Folk Private Pressing. “Old Squire” and “Duke of Grafton” typify the strengths of this superb album, finely balanced voices and instruments create an effortlessly beautiful sound that just carries you away. A church choir of vocals underpins a timeless lyric and a sublime violin part. Listen out too for Epha Roe’s ethereal piano part too. “Horace in Brighton” and its lilt reminds me of the slightly melancholic feel good acoustic music that Johnny Flynn recorded for the wonderful Detectorists TV series. “Verses on Daniel Good” lifts the tempo and is rollicking murder ballad with some huge Bellowhead choruses. “The Lillies” mixes atmospheric wave sounds and voices like a hypnotic whaling ballad recorded in a swell. The album closes as it opens stripped back to the considerable beauty of the human voice and we are left staring at the sea. Along with Offa Rex’s treatment of Folk classics and Mishaped Pearls often hallucinogenic music, Bird in the Belly make a music that breathes a new life into old old music. In their professed mission to rediscover and represent lost musics, they produce a powerful and evocative music that places the past very much in an exciting present. “The Crowing” is visceral and distilled down to an essential essence that is both ancient and contemporary. Here’s very much hoping that this album and a film documenting the bands researching into the material on this album are the first steps in a long journey. For me there is the same potential of the new that was contained in Hark the Village Wait and Liege and Lief, but time will tell.