Claire Hastings – Those Who Roam

Album Review | Luckenbooth Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Those Who Roam is the second album from former BBC Young Traditional Musician Of The Year Claire Hastings. The album is a smooth mix of Traditional, Claire’s own songs and a folked up version of the much covered “King Of California” by Dave Alvin. The band, Jenn Butterworth guitar, Laura Wilkie fiddle, Thomas Gibbs piano and Andrew Waite on accordion are tasteful and polished accompanists. Claire’s is measured and beautifully polished on “The Lothian Hairst” and “Jack The Sailor” with equally measured and sympathetic playing. “Seven Gypsies” with a wonderfully fiery violin and piano has more bite and punch. “Sailin’s A Weary Life” a variation on “A Sailors Life” famously included on Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking. Claire Hastings version crackles with that same dark tension, the intro is alive with edgy piano and otherworldly string noises. Hastings’ vocal throughout is intimate but emotionally charged and powerful. “Fair Weather Beggar”, while within the Folk tradition is a buskers song written by Claire. It’s refrain ‘come gather round I’ve got stories to tell’ is on the album’s gatefold sleeve as this songs’ romantic tale draws in part from Claire’s own experiences as a singer and musician.

“Logie O Buchan”, with another beautifully sweet vocal and tastefully restrained accompaniment was written in the 19th Century by George Halket. In “Nobel Helen Of Cluden” Claire tells the story of a woman who walks from Scotland to London to gain a reprieve for her sister convicted of killing her newborn child. The chilling tale is beautifully delivered with a particularly fine chorus. “Jamie Raeburn” is another quiet storm track, a powerful tale is delivered with emotion but no histrionics. Claire’s fine vocal is framed by brooding fiddle and piano, building tension. “King Of California” is a Transatlantic folk song, with Dave Alvin’s lyric dealing with a goldrush hopeful, while the tune is enthused with Celtic bounce and spring. Its theme of hopeful travel fits well on this album and Claire Hastings’ version is just a joy, charged with hope and potency. Standout track is Claire’s mostly unaccompanied “Ten Thousand Miles.” Her voice, with just the hint of a sample running in the background, layers on itself. Imagine part June Tabor and Maddy Priors Silly Sisters and part Judie Tzuke’s “For You.” Layering Claire’s just adds to the beauty of her delivery of a well known song.

This triumphant set of songs is almost a concept album, with migrant workers, departed sailors, songs that celebrate the open road and people who are changed or effect change through travel. It’s not flashy or showy but it is beautifully put together and an understated but rewarding listen. The careful construction, sequencing and recording even extends to the album sleeve, with Claire portrayed as a 1940’s traveller setting off or arriving, maybe with a, touch of brief encounter romanticism. It’s all very beautifully and tastefully put together and beats the hell out of all those cover shots of Folk Musicians in their best togs braced against the weather on a picturesque hillside or heath.