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OxFolk Review: ‘Releasing the Leaves’

Ben Ray listens to 'Releasing the Leaves', the second album from the duo Ninebarrow

Listening to Ninebarrow’s new album, ‘Releasing the Leaves’, cannot help but put a smile on your face. The stunning voices of Jon Whitley and Jay Labouchardiere, who make up the duo, weave a certain type of magic around the listener with each subsequent song that it is hard to exactly identify: maybe it is the exploration of the varied landscape and history of Britain within their choice of songs, or perhaps it is the beautiful, soaring two-part harmonies they create that seem to almost lift the listener out of their seat. Their tunes have a beautiful simplicity about them: using various instruments from a reed organ to an octave mandola to accompany their lyrical storytelling, Ninebarrow refrain from over-embellishing their music, instead giving them space to grow and develop at their own pace. There is a clear respect of and love for these songs, and it shines through in such a way that the listener can’t help but be enthused alongside them.

Ninebarrow certainly have enough history behind them to justify this deep understanding of both the music and each other: having been friends since the age of 12, the duo soon began collecting accolades once they began singing together in 2012. Their debut album ‘While the Blackthorn Burns’ was named Fatea Magazine’s ‘Debut Album of the Year’ for 2014, and the duo were finalists in the UK Songwriting Competition in the same year. With these successes weighing on their shoulders, one may have worried about a second album- however, Ninebarrow have managed to continue and build on their exploration of British folk music with this new release. Many of the songs are based around the duo’s home of Dorset, and their love for its history and folklore seeps through the music as they sing about aspects of their native landscape ranging from women who devote their lives to creating the perfect pins to the abandoned village of Tyneham. Many of the tunes represent different aspects of Britain’s history- ‘Silent Prayer’ describes life at sea during a storm, whilst ‘Three Ravens’ retells one of the folk repertoire’s grimmest stories of death and fate, taken from the Child Ballads. Indeed, it seems at points as if Jon and Jay are singing alongside voices from the past- though that could be some overly poetic wishful thinking on my part!

This album even boasts a downloadable songbook for you to learn about and sing along to your favourite tracks (mine personally is ‘Weave her a Garland’, a beautiful tune accompanied by soft reed organ). This is a truly wonderful album, and rightly deserves its place on any music fan’s playlist.

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