It is always a brave choice for an artist to go for a “raw” album, with very little additional production and double tracking. When Tim Jones and the Dark Lanterns chose to record St Giles’ Bowl in a studio on a dairy farm with the only hints of extra instrumentation coming from farm machinery and the local wildlife, it is fair to say that it is a choice they made very early on in the process. And it really works.
Whilst it is fairly obvious in places that the recording process was done mostly on a “one-take” basis, the character and vibrancy that this method produces more than makes up for any minor blemishes. The percussion, however, could perhaps have been made a little less muddy in parts, as the intricacy of the playing is not at noticeable as it should have been.
Tim has an extremely unique delivery, although the significance of his listed influences - Cyril Tawney and Peter Bellamy - is clear throughout. The strength of his vocals is highlighted when accompanied by the voices of the Lanterns - Melissa Smith, Ted Kemp, Robin Timmis, James Farrimond and Bedwyr Gruffydd.
The unaccompanied Harringay Races in particular highlights the strength of the harmonies on the album, and the track is a welcome change of pace on the album for the more traditional listener.
The idea of Interlude / The Wounded Hussar is an interesting one. It is essentially a brief intermission with lots of birdsong whilst the fantastic tune The Wounded Hussar is played in the background. It would have been nice to hear a full version of the tune, as it is played beautifully by Robin Timmis, but it has the intended impact- a short relaxing break before the brilliant Robinson.
A particular highlight on the album is the fantastic Iron & Smoke, which features some brilliantly sympathetic banjo playing (who knew there could be such a thing?) from Ted Kemp. The glockenspiel isn’t a regular feature in folk music, but it is used beautifully in this track as well. Again, the strength of the harmonies is clear in the chorus. There is a high standard of song writing from Tim throughout the album, but this is perhaps his finest.
Another highlight is the final track- Far Normandy. Stripped back to just Tim and his guitar, but by no means an anti-climax to what is an upbeat and “full” album throughout, Far Normandy draws attention to what is essentially at the core of the album- Tim’s song writing and singing. It is a gorgeous and thoughtful end to the album, and the drop in tempo to finish on works perfectly.
St Giles’ Bowl is an extremely solid debut album from Tim and his Lanterns. Fans of folk-rock would really enjoy the often Steeleye-like arrangments, and fans of Bellamy would appreciate the fine song writing and singing. A very good album.Ciaran Algar
Released 1st March 2015 on Cotton Mill Records
1. One of a Thousand Men
2. St Giles Bowl
3. Her Long Red Hair
4. No More a Darkness
6. Gallows Ground
7. Interlude / The Wounded Hussar
9. Harringay Races
11. Iron & Smoke
12. Far Normandy