UPCETERA - JIM MORAY
LCM ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Release Date: 30th September, 2016.
Location: Bristol, UK
Record Label: NIAG Records
Another very strong contender for BBC Radio 2 album of the year is the sublime 'Upcetera' the new album from multiple award winning folk singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jim Moray. 'Upcetera' is Jim's first solo album in four years. Featuring ten ballads it heralds the beginning of a new chapter and a watershed for for one of England's most creative singer-songwriters. Very much a perfect blend of old and new, some of these songs such as opening track 'Fair Margaret And Sweet William' collected by Cecil Sharp are hundreds of years old. These dovetail with brand new songs like the self penned 'Sounds Of Earth' written about the gold record curated by Carl Sagan and placed on the Voyager spacecraft. One thing that immediately strikes you while listening to the new album is the rich orchestration and arrangements. They form a special musical bridge linking old and new, making ancient and reimagined traditional stories very fresh and relevant.
Jim has always been a very strong songwriter and lyricist and 'Upcetera' places the narrative of these songs centre stage. With Jim's strong and powerful vocal introducing the listener to tales old and new. Drawing influence from the systems music of composers like Nyman and Reich, 'Upcetera' features dramatically orchestrated Child ballads reimagined as torch songs or a kind of English Fado. Jim's spellbinding version of the traditional schooner shanty 'The Flying Cloud' is a collaboration with Viola Da Gamba player Liam Byrne, who's worked with Damon Albarn, Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nico Muhly. While most of the instrumentation was performed by Jim himself the album also features contributions from Dave Smith (Robert Plant, JuJu) on drums, Chris Hillman (Billy Bragg) on pedal steel guitar, Matt Downer on double bass, Jess Morgan on vocals and Jo Silverston and Anna Jenkins (The Unthanks, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker) on cello and violin among others. All the songs on the album are traditional with brand new arrangements by Jim except tracks 6 and 7, which are new and written by Jim. The album was produced by Jim and recorded at FLW, Joe's Garage, Bristol and Real World, Box.
With an upbeat modern new tune from Jim, 'Fair Margaret and Sweet William' was originally collected by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles in 1916 with words from Jeff Stockton of Flagpole, Tennessee. It has touches of the Unthanks.
With it's almost Beatlesque string, brass and woodwind arrangements 'William of Barbary' (Child ballad 100) was collected in 1906 by Cecil Sharp. The idea of a courtship being conducted in disguise by a prince or a rich man's son is the common stuff of oral tales the world over. In this song it makes for a remarkably amiable ballad with smiles, forgiveness and fortunes all round at the end of the story.
The great Willie Nelson once said '90% of us end up with the wrong person and that's what makes the jukebox spin'. This is the theme of the tragic 'Another Man's Wedding' (Roud 567). Jim learnt the song originally from Nick Dow's 'A Poor Man's Gift', but has put his own arrangements and spin on it.
Usually, folk songs tell of a sailor's joyful homecoming, with a happy welcome from the girl he left behind; but Young Edwin's welcome is the cold steel of a sword blade in 'Edward Of the Lowlands' (Roud 182). The girl's cruel parents murder the returned wanderer because his pockets are lined with gold. A favourite of the broadside printers, who knew a good melodrama when they saw one, this ballad has travelled to Canada and the U.S.A. This version is substantially that which Ralph Vaughan Williams collected in Hampshire in 1907. Great electric guitar from Jim and watch out for the English bagpipes from Paul James.
'Eppie Moray' (Child 223) appears to come from William Miller via his son Ewan Maccoll who made it popular. The ballad describes a young woman being forcefully taken from her home by a man named Willie and his companions. Willie's goal is to force Eppie to marry him. She refuses: in some versions because she already has a suitor, and in others because she considers Willie to be unworthy of her. First, Willie takes her to a priest whom he tries to force at gunpoint to perform the marriage ceremony. When the priest refuses, Eppie is locked in a room with Willie, where he tries to rape her. After a prolonged struggle, Willie finally gives up. Eppie, having retained her virginity and avoided the forced marriage is rescued by the arrival of a band of armed men, led by John Forsyth. After being rescued Eppie triumphantly asks Willie to provide her with a horse to return home on. Placenames mentioned suggest that the events happened in Aberdeenshire.
One of my favourite on the album is the 'The Straight Line And The Curve' the first of two new back to back original songs from Jim. It is based on the story of John Dee and taken from a quote in the 1564 'Monas Hieroglyphica'. It has a Elizabethan feel in it's orchestration and could quite easily be part of a movie soundtrack."It is by the straight line and the curve that the first and most simple example and representation of all things may be demonstrated whether such things be either non-existent or merely hidden under Nature's veils'. John Dee (1527 – 1608 or 1609) was an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occult philosopher, and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. He devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy. He was also an advocate of England's imperial expansion. Dee straddled the worlds of science and magic just as they were becoming distinguishable. One of the most learned men of his age, he had been invited to lecture on the geometry of Euclid at the University of Paris while still in his early twenties. Dee was an ardent promoter of mathematics and a respected astronomer, as well as a leading expert in navigation, having trained many of those who would conduct England's voyages of discovery.
Next up is the beautiful finger-picked acoustic guitar led 'Sounds Of Earth' another firm favourite. The song centres on the quest to find new alien life and the gold record curated by Carl Sagan with the many sounds and music of the earth. It was placed inside The Voyager spacecraft, which is now the furthest man-made object from earth. I really like the lovely underpinning double bass and pedal steel which adds richness and atmosphere to the song. "There is. it is said, a kind of spirit music in the world, continuously but silently playing. perhaps all of the Voyager record can be viewed similarly - as a local and momentary expression of cosmic discourse, and exchange of greetings and music and information among diverse galactic species that has been in progress for billions of years' (Carl Sagan - Murmurs of Earth (1984))
This true-life story 'The Foggy Dew' (Roud 558) is known in many forms. Sometimes the girl is frightened by a ghost: the “bugaboo”. Sometimes she seems disturbed by the weather: the “foggy dew”. Some say the foggy dew is a virginity symbol; others say the words are there by accident or corruption and all the girl was pretending to be frightened of was ghosts. Whatever the case, she creeps to the roving bachelor for comfort, and gets what she came for. The Irish have it as a sentimental piece of blarney, the Scots as a brief bawdy guffaw; students have coarsened the song, and Benjamin Britten has refined it. The East Anglian country-folk have it straightest and sing it without a laugh or a tear or a nudge in the ribs, just as it happened.
There was nothing of the jolly, romantic pirate of pantomime and nursery lore about the real lives of the brutal criminals of the high seas who flourished in the early nineteenth century and before. Despite its beautiful name, 'The Flying Cloud' (Roud 1802) was such a pirate vessel. This harsh, violent and almost movie-like ballad, cast in the form of a confession from the gallows, depicts the worst of piracy on the Atlantic and the Caribbean in the early 1800s, when piracy and the slave trade often went hand in bloody hand. The unfortunate Arthur Hollander is to die for crimes against commerce & property and his expressed regret for this part in slaving, does not seem to be shared by the authorities.
Often called "Lady Franklin's Lament" is 'Lord Franklin', the last track on the album. It is a traditional folk ballad indexed by George Malcolm Laws (Roud 487). The song recounts the story of a sailor who dreams about Lady Franklin speaking of the loss of her husband, Lord John Franklin, who disappeared in Baffin Bay during his 1845 expedition through the Arctic Ocean in search of the Northwest Passage sea route to the Pacific ocean. The song first appeared as a broadside ballad around 1850 and has since been recorded with the melody of the Irish traditional air "Cailín Óg a Stór" by numerous artists.