WATERSHED - PHILLIP HENRY & HANNAH MARTIN
LCM ALBUM OF THE MONTH - OCTOBER 2015
Release Date: 25th September, 2015
Record Label: Dragonfly Roots
Watershed is the excellent third album from the multi award-winning duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. The album takes the all the brilliant elements of their previous highly acclaimed album 'Mynd' and then add a new level of richness and diversity. With a perfect mix of Folk, Americana, Blues, Indian music, beat boxing and harmonica, this album positively sparkles with energy and life. The word 'Watershed' carries the meaning of 'an event or period marking a turning point in a situation' and this is reflected in the overall theme of the album.
This collection of original songs was recorded live with the Watershed Band (Matt Downer, James Taylor & Rex Preston) deep in the Blackdown Hills in Devon. Watershed has a deep rich and atmospheric sound combining the textures of their signature dobro, banjo, fiddle and harmonica with double bass, electric lap steel, drums, percussion and vibraphone. With this album Phil and Hannah have explored brand new territory in terms of their songwriting. Moving away from the many historical figures that have been the subject of their previous songs, they now explore the idea of a modern personal folk stories, to create an edgier and grittier sound.
With its beautiful leading harmonica and banjo the album opens with the wonderful title track 'Watershed'. It first describes the Lake District and it's permanence with the fleeting shortness of human life. Then uses the metaphor of the flow of falling rain water to the sea to contrast with the lives of people, chosing our path and the sides we support. 'Watershed, here the rain must chose which side to fall.....We take the paths that fit our stride.....crossroads passed, we come and go, down paths that only we may know.....But up above there's angry skies and down below the tide will rise...and we will choose our own side....which side to fall'
Stones with its great dobro solo is another very well written song packed with meaning and social commentary. It discusses some of bigoted and distorted views which people have that are often based on fear and ignorance. An ode to UKIP. 'Chance your arm, pick a stone, let it fly, let it go. When it hits, then it starts. Don't be surprised at the marks.......So chase your neighbour out of town. Point your finger lay the blame. Make sure your world stays the same......And spit your fear in forked tongues, at anyone it lights upon....Blame anybody but yourself'.
With Phil's harmonica and beat boxing front and centre on Tonight which also showcases Hannah's rich vocal and volin playing.
Yarrow Mill is another story song describing the life of a couple (Phil's grandparents) who worked at Yarrow Mill and it's cotton industry. Beautiful harmonies on this song from Phil and Hannah. 'You didn't like to make a fuss, but your smile live on now with all of us.'
Another great dobro and banjo combination song is the sweeping Conkers. It is a song as Hannah explains which looks at childhood from an adult point of view.
December is the first of two instrumentals on the album. This first one is a dobro and violin led track written by Phil which also features Matt on double bass and James Taylor on percussion.
January explores changes and boundaries, the start of a new year and the end of the old....'the parting of the ways'. 'For here are the pathway folks, here the ties must sever. Don't look back when you leave, but pray for better weather'. Hannah sings this song unaccompanied.
Letter (unsent) carries the feeling of loss and change. 'You said you'd be in touch, but you didn't know when'
Foundling (or an abandoned child) is the subject of the next song on the album. It continues the theme of loss, change and choices and it's aftermath. It is a song written about Hannah's Grandmother. 'Lost at the beginning, but you've found that you don't know your own strength and you'll never be lost again.'
Lament is the second instrumental on the album, this time a tradition song arranged by Phil. Again a dobro led track which has a really quality feel about it.
London in the word's of the song 'can ben a cipher, for all the things I'd like to say, London can hold this message to you after I go away'. It seems to be based on a similar theme to Foundling. 'I once was one, but now am two. Best for both to be free and be parted. Though the best of me will stay with you.'
Taxis is a reflective song which once again carries the theme of choices. Choosing the different life of a travelling musician away from the 'rat-race' of life, but that has it's own consequences.
The UK Folk world as produced some high quality and rich albums this year and Watershed is no exception. It is an excellent album full of gems to explore and discover.