“How do stories make us who we are?” This is the surprisingly philosophical question posed to us by Fa Hield in the introduction to her latest release, ‘Old Adam’, and it’s a question she explores and attempts to answer in the following tracks. From the idyllic, biblical purity of the track ‘Old Adam’ to the desperate, hopeless love of ‘Willow Glen’ and onwards to the crooked darkness portrayed in ‘The Hag in the Beck’, this absorbing collection of traditional folk songs truly does seem to span much of our emotional lives- you could almost say there’s something for everyone. But it isn’t just the content of the lyrics that give the listener pause for thought with this album- it’s Fay Hield’s haunting, addictive voice, mixed with the fantastic accompaniment of her band, the Hurricane Party, that brings you back for more each time a track ends.
The feeling of accomplishment and professionalism that emanates from this album even at first listening has come to be expected of Fay Hield- her distinctive voice has brought her to bands such as The Full English (a large, ground-breaking folk collective) and to a nomination at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. But Hield’s fascination with the folk music tradition doesn’t end at simply singing- she has gone on to enter academia, lecturing in Music at the University of Sheffield and examining the role of folk music in constructing communities. With such a deep and nuanced understanding of this music and its place in our society, it comes as little surprise that ‘Old Adam’ is carefully and lovingly crafted; each tune tells a different story and makes the listening of the album into an intimate, cosy storytelling session. In the first track, the traditional tune ‘Green Gravel’, a creepy, threatening tale of murder is wound around a simply terrific bass solo line by Ben Nicholls that immediately pulls the listener headfirst into the album. This dark tune is then instantly offset by a jolly interpretation of ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ (though, of course, this story also ends darkly) – this album really does not allow the listener to be lulled into complacency, with surprises seemingly hidden around every corner.
With a fantastic line up in the Hurricane Party, ‘Old Adam’ is not notable solely for its singer and choice of tunes. With figures like Sam Sweeney & Jon Boden on fiddles and Martin Simpson on guitar, this album really is a joy to listen to- the songs are frequently interspersed with instrumentals and solos that demonstrate the band’s frankly astonishing skill. ‘Old Adam’ really is a superb album- even if it does attempt to answer some overly ambitious questions…
Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party are playing at The Quaker Meeting House, Oxford on Friday 14 October, 8pm. Tickets £14/£10 conc., Tel. 01865 484777