Ninebarrow – The Waters & The Wild

Album Review | Winding Track | Review by Steve Henderson | Stars: 5/5

To say Ninebarrow is something of a cottage industry is to underestimate them. Whether it’s selling CDs, songbooks, t-shirts or greeting cards, their website reveals them to be busy bees. Whilst, of course, good commercial sense is no indication of the quality of their music, positive comments abound from the likes of Mike Harding and Kate Rusby as well as a nomination in the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. It seemed like it was time to get the music microscope out and peer through the lens at their latest record, The Waters & The Wild. Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere are Ninebarrow and they hail from Dorset which probably accounts for the pastoral feel to their music. Theirs is a close harmony vocal that decorates a mix of self-compositions and traditional songs. The Waters & The Wild arrives with its owns songbook if you should choose to flash a little more cash. Both are immaculately packaged and presented with an attention to detail in their art that may surprise you. Whilst production on earlier records has been handled by the duo, The Waters & The Wild has been produced by Mark Tucker whose skills have been in demand with everyone from Show of Hands to Fairport Convention. It’s an excellent production giving clarity to their mix of reed organ, ukulele, tenor and octave mandola, piano, viola, cello, double bass and assorted percussion. A nod of respect should go to Barney Morse-Brown’s string arrangements too. The mournful cello on the closing “Sing a Full Song” is a treat in itself and draws out the tenderness from this John Kirkpatrick song. Elsewhere, the well-read duo draw their lyrics from poems such as on the title track which takes W.B.Yeats’ The Stolen Child as its inspiration. The Dorset dialect poet, William Barnes, is adapted for “Hwome” with its delicate plucked strings making for a simple but effective introduction to the song. It’s a song that is symptomatic of that earlier pastoral comment as is “Gather It In” where the reed organ is to the fore. That’s not to say that the duo don’t have a darker side as you’ll find when you encounter the hanging on “Thirteen Turns”. However, their music is gentle even when the lyrics bring a disturbing element to the song. As a further example, take their version of the traditional song, “Prickle-Eye Bush”, which has less of an edge to it than that from Spiers and Boden. It’s pretty and appealing but, perhaps, not necessarily for those who want some grit in their oyster. That warning aside, Ninebarrow’s new record has a carefully crafted beauty that should see them gather in many more fans. Expect more plaudits to follow.