Every now and then you get an agitator in the folk world; someone who takes songs that have thrived for hundreds of years, and freshens them for a new generation. This dramatic release puts Jarlath Henderson firmly in that bracket.

Time: 8 tracks  /43 mins
Label: Bellows Records

Every now and then you get an agitator in the world of folk; someone who takes songs that have thrived for tens or hundreds of years, and makes them fresh for a new generation - people like Jim Moray and Eliza Carthy. This immense release puts Jarlath Henderson firmly with them in that bracket.

It only took one track to put me in love with this album: “Courting is a Pleasure,” which Henderson describes as a “story of false love, alcohol, gambling and emigration.” So if there were a bit of murder in there as well, it would be a typical folk song. Apart from being a fine piece (as are all eight on this collection), it is the arrangement that converted me.

It starts with a rippling guitar line, along with some atmospheric electronica... and then the Moog comes in. Its low growl gives tremendous oomph to the piece, and the whole arrangement is absolutely addictive.

The Moog appears elsewhere, too, and is particularly mood-enhancing on the dramatic drone-drenched murder ballad “Young Edmund in the Lowlands Low,” but this is not a one-trick band. Henderson treats each song individually and brings out its own character. So “Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure” is stripped back and acoustic; “Fare Thee Well Lovely Nancy” rides a heavy bass sequencer groove, with splashes of jazz and electronica; and “The Slighted Lover” is given a chilled jazz treatment. Henderson eschews his normal pipes and flute, sticking to vocals, while the piano moves centre-stage, joined by some sparing trombone and baritone sax.

The bottom line is that this collection is a real joy (if you can describe lots of murder, theft and deceit that way). There’s no doubting that this is in the folk tradition, as the vocals are up-front, narrative-based song is always king and Henderson’s pipes and whistles liberally colour the music. But the dressing is clear, fresh and very much of today. 

I strongly recommend the ‘making of’ video that gives several tracks full coverage. If you haven’t got the 35 minutes it lasts (go on, you'll be glad you did), then go for the video of “Courting is a Pleasure” - but be prepared: you may get addicted too.

Henderson is on tour in November, supporting Anais Mitchell. This is highly recommended.

Derek Walker