Modern folk with soul and a rich component of strings and woodwinds.

60 Minutes an Hour
Artist: Maddison’s Thread
Label: (independent)
Time: 13 tracks / 53:00 minutes

Lee Maddison’s brand of modern folk incorporates all the nostalgic elements that made classic singer/songwriter acts so memorable, but without feeling dated or unoriginal.  Sixty Minutes an Hour is a new collection of songs from the Hartlepool-based musician, just under an hour of music, that involves western twang and blues swagger, showcasing themes and melodies that range from leisurely to pastoral to somber.  Lyrically, the album spans a variety of topics that all fall under the umbrella of passing time: stories that are a unique blend of fiction and autobiography – something like allegory, and something that always feels familiar.

With the exception of the percussion section, the personnel on Sixty Minutes an Hour is similar to that on the band’s eponymous debut.  Lee provides acoustic guitars and vocals in addition to composing the album’s songs and lyrics; Nigel Spaven returns on the bass; Stewart Hardy performs violin & viola in addition to producing the record; and Sue Ferris returns as Sixty Minutes’  dedicated flautist.  The album also features newcomers Darren Moore on the drum kit and Brendan Murphy on miscellaneous percussion, together with guest guitarist Paul Donnelly, Fiona Beyer on cello, and Tony Davies on the piano and the Hammond.

An album about the passage of time will naturally convey paradoxical elements of hope and wistfulness – regret and nostalgia intertwined.  The album’s title track was inspired (or sort of “confirmed”) by a line from C. S. Lewis: “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”  Such astute wordplay suits Lee Maddison’s poetry, and Sixty Minutes’ self-titled opener pays homage to Lewis with its striking language: “As time goes by / And precious moments she devours / For time she flies / At sixty minutes an hour.”  Plucked guitar and steady percussion measure the song’s pace in regular eighth notes, and lilting violin punctuates the ending of each refrain.

A trio of tunes – “Chasing the White Dove,” “Parasiteful,” and the album’s single, “Charlatans & Blaggers” – continue in the same restless vein as the title track.  These tunes range from grooving blues to upbeat country to folk ballad, sometimes hinting at all three styles.  “White Dove” explores the theme of spiritual ambiguity, less chasing after faith than fleeing the crush of modern living.  “Parasiteful” – a portmanteau of “parasite” and “spiteful” – is a soft rock tune that harshly critiques the consumerist mentality of humankind toward nature.  “Charlatans & Blaggers” invokes a New Orleans swing feel to portray a back-alley sensation of having to watch your own back – as the “thunderbolts and daggers” that the world hurls to grind you down could come out of the darkness at any moment.

“Tumbleweed” is a brief little country tune about the depth of native roots and the often claustrophobia-induced desire to escape.  The album’s sixth track, “The Flycatcher,” is a transitional piece on the record, marking a deliberate movement away from upbeat compositions to more emotive, strings-based writing.  Lee’s take on a Roy Harper tune from the 1980 album, The Unknown Soldier, “The Flycatcher” is a raw folk ballad, swaying with big guitar chords and harmonic lines shared between violins and guitar.  “Lines on a Fisherman's Wife” is another ballad that, with some Celtic-style violin work, leans further in the pastoral direction and channels a strong Simon & Garfunkel vibe.  The lyrics for this song are adapted from a poem Lee discovered called “Lines on a Fisherman's Wife at Hartlepool.”

For me, one of the album’s highlight tracks is “Love Like Autumn,” a gorgeous and colorful duet between Lee and Edwina Hayes.  Accordion and a full compliment of strings give the tune a lush, Viennese feel.  “Weightless,” a brief, lighthearted song about young love, follows with strings and flute accompaniment, while “Don't Say Goodbye” opens with a chamber feel and rich yet crushing lyrics: “I feel a lot like yesterday’s news / As screwed up as my paper-thin excuses / I’m losing grip on all I love, and all I dread to lose / Got one foot in the door of the Hall of Fame of losers.”

“Jessica” is a western-influenced ballad, an old tune of Lee’s that he wrote for his granddaughter when she was only three years old; at the time of the album’s release, she is 13, a statement about time’s passage that fits well with the record’s overall theme.  Hayes also lends her voice here for backing vocals.  Another favorite of mine, “A Thomas Hardy Evening,” features a really nice central melody, and some gorgeous instrumentation – particularly Stewart Hardy’s string orchestrations and Sue Ferris’ work on the flute.  The album’s final track, “The Fledgling,” once again features Edwina Hayes as an additional vocalist, and uses the imagery of a young bird leaving the nest to capture the wistfulness of coming of age: the innocence of youth that must be left behind in the inevitable wake of maturity and experience.

There is so much to enjoy about Maddison’s Thread.  With playful and creative melodies, blending whimsy and purpose, Lee’s tunes are as much insightful as they are easy to listen to, with poetry that echoes Peter, Paul, and Mary; Simon & Garfunkel; and even smacks of Bob Dylan.  The band’s instrumentation is a rich, full compliment to the compositions, spreading a harmonic tapestry beneath the central melodies.  Averaging just 3.5 minutes each, the tunes on Sixty Minutes are brief but compact – packed with lyrical depth and careful orchestration.  This is the kind of album lighthearted enough to provide gentle background music, but also possessing the depth to grip your attention the moment you begin to follow the lyrics.

Fans of modern folk music with generous nods to the classics, this is a record for you.


Justin Carlton