Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5
The Brothers Gillespie, raised in Northumberland and now based in Hexham are a vocal guitar and fiddle duo. Laid out on paper the recipe is deceptively simple, two guitars, two brothers voices, whistle, fiddle and touches of percussion and clarsach. But sometimes, great ingredients and skilled hands make the most perfect meal, transcending the bones of the recipe, and that is what The Fell is, the most perfect feast. “Golden One” is a stunning opener, Solo voice and guitar building to duo vocals. There is something special about siblings singing together, The Staves have it and that edge and power explodes out of The Brothers Gillespie. Beautifully recorded duo vocals capture that Greenwich Village Coffee Shop intensity and the twining together of the voices on early Simon and Garfunkel. James and Sam smoulder with the emotional flutter of Anthony and The Johnsons and the raw Psych Folk bite of Barry Dransfield’s “Werewolf” or The Incredible String Band. “Coventina’s Daughter” sweetens the brothers vocals further with touches of whistle.
The Brothers Gillespie’s version of “The Road To Dundee” crackles with power. The voices are just sublime and the accompanying guitar has some of that Bert Jansch Psych Folk snap and edge to it, another striking performance on a consistently strong album. “Tina’s Song” takes the connection to the land and the disquiet of Golden One and delivers a highly personalised anti fracking song. The Folk song in the making sense is heightened by the “Nottomun Town” edge to the tune. Guitars twang atmospherically while James and Sam passionately deliver a powerful message of dissent and protest. If this had been written and available then I’m sure Martin Carthy would have been belting it out alongside “The Famous Flower Of Serving Men.” “Northumberland 1 and 2” mix a spoken piece with guitar accompaniment and a song with lyrics by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson. The whole thing is a triumph, the spoken piece is deeply atmospheric and the song is a folk triumph from its rich opening guitar to the perfect hair on the neck raising vocals. Tim Lane’s percussion just adds to the sense of powerful otherness on this classic track. The mix of spoken and sung vocals, the strong atmosphere and sense of place put me in mind of Jim Ghedi’s amazing A Hymn to Ancient Land, released this time last year. Both Ghedi and The Brothers Gillespie explore their strong connection to their ancestral landscape through visceral powerful music.
Most surprising track on the album is The Brothers Gillespie’s cover of Michelle Shocked’s “Blackberry Blossom.” Shocked recorded the upbeat song on “Arkansas Traveler”, the last of the trio of her American albums for Mercury. James and Sam’s version builds on the dark undertones of the lyric about dead lost love, imbruing the whole song with a Gothic edge and tension. “Wilderness Wild” sounds like an ancient folk song, dealing as it does with the dark power of the land and its hold over us. The interplay between the voices is incredible, like a English Traditional Simon and Garfunkel with trills of guitar and mandolin adding to the perfection. “The Banks Of The Liffey” has a superb guitar motif, fleet fingered harmonics, deft and descriptive like the best of Martin Simpson. The duo’s fine vocals and lyrics place it in that tradition of fine folk recordings that stretch back to the sixties. The chorus of two voices sounds like it could be perfectly swelled by a quiet Folk Club audience.
This is a moving and surprising album. Stunning songs beautifully sung and played. Without doubt a classic in the making from a duo potent with potential. The recordings jump out of the speakers such is the honesty and quality of the recording, touches of bird song gathered through the open window add to the power and integrity of what is here. Like a Japanese brush and ink drawing, every stroke is laid bare and there is a real beauty in the economy and grace of the music. Though there is a power and darkness too, this is never fey acoustic music, rather there is a savage beauty throughout.