Time has flown since Rosie Hood’s 2011 eponymous EP. The Beautiful & The Actual finally bears the recorded fruits of her work in her first full length album and, as expected, it plays out a collection of folk songs old and new, some faithful, others less so.
The album takes its name from Folk Songs Of The Upper Thames by the prolific collector Alfred Williams, whose collection provides eight songs that make the final cut, completing what Rosie Hood has called a set based round “life and death, love and betrayal, beautiful melodies and hauntingly sad lyrics.” In a nutshell, she’s selected an assortment of traditional songs and tinkered with the words or tunes, yet left a couple in their original guise.
Regardless of the content, it’s a set very much focused on her solid and confident vocal delivery with musical backing either scant or absent. Her mark is made immediately with an imposing Lover’s Ghost opening the album, the developing tale backed by an appropriately ghostly ambience. Traditional, yet given a striking reading.
From the sublime to the bizarre - it flows into what initially sounds like the opening of AOR giants Boston’s More Than A Feeling - fear not, as the fascinating eleventh century tale of Eilmer the monk in A Furlong Of Flight completes a gripping opening pairing.
Alongside Hood herself, there are cameos from a small handful of contributors. Lord Lovel is a duet on the tragic tale with Jefferson Hamer - recorded up close and intimate revealing the squeaking of the fingers on the strings of the pair of guitars.
The Cruel Mother sees Hood pairing up with Emily Portman - again, a performance that centres on the interplay between the voices, coming across like a duo version of what Lady Maisery do so effectively as a trio.
For all the tragedy and despair, Ollie King’s melodeon adds a welcome jaunty garnish to Baker’s Oven, but the real treats lie in wait for when Hood closes the songbooks and is bold enough to throw in an original; there are two and both have more contemporary inspirations.
Dorothy Lawrence, an intriguing narrative of the hero(ine) who disguised herself as a soldier to report on the front line in the Great War, is accompanied by just a percussive bass. There’s also the topical migration observations of ’ghost ships’ packed with refugees on Adrift, Adrift - embellished by the Barber Sisters’ restrained strings.
They prove little diamonds sparkling in the treasure trove; an enthralling collection that’s been worth the wait.Mike Ainscoe
Released on June 16 2017 on Rootbeat Records. Recorded and mixed by Tom A Wright at Powered Flight Music.
1. Lover’s Ghost
2. A Furlong Of Flight
3. William’s Sweetheart
4. Lord Lovel
5. Dorothy Lawrence
6. Baker’s Oven
7. The Little Blind Girl
8. The Red Herring
9. Adrift, Adrift
10. The Hills Of Kandahar
11. The Cruel Mother
12. Undaunted Female