Common Ground is the debut album from Sheffield-based five piece Isembard’s Wheel. Fronedt by Alexander Isembard on guitar, the band also includes Ed Young on mandolin, Toby Morris on banjo, Rebekah Foard on violin and “hoofin” and Joss Mann-Hazell on double bass. Guest musicians provide fiddle, cello, cajon, drums and electric guitar.
The album opens with the old standard, Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy, but this is far from a standard arrangement of the song. It begins conventionally enough but the tempo and texture soon changes, ending in a gloriously raucous finale. A surprise inclusion is the tune of Lord of the Dance as an instrumental interlude before the final verse.
Isembard’s Wheel also put their own unique mark on the other traditional song on the album, The Union Miners. This is not the heavy anthemic version much beloved of folk club singarounds, but a much more upbeat arrangement by Ed Young with light and jolly accompaniment by mandolin and fiddle.
Alexander Isembard and Ed Young are the songwriters in the band and both have a poetic writing style, much more complex than the traditional folk style. However, traditional themes are very much in evidence: Turner’s Bones draws on the experiences of a sea captain, while the Field Singer has a pastoral theme. Horse on the Hill keeps us in the countryside with beautiful, gentle instrumentation and some lovely harmonies.
Most striking of the original songs is Sowain Tul which resembles a West Gallery hymn. It is sung unaccompanied apart from some clogging which is added in the second verse.
Avalon takes one by surprise somewhat with the inclusion of electric guitar. It is the rockiest track of the album, with a sound reminiscent of the Waterboys.
Five live tracks end the album - three are versions of tracks from the band’s EP Autumn in Eden, followed by reprises of two songs on this recording, giving an indication of the quality of their live performances. Gloucester Gaol in particular is performed with great gusto.
Common Ground contains songs which will stay in your consciousness once you have switched off your music player. The sound is exuberant and fresh, breathing new life to traditional songs and adding new songs to the folk canon with their original compositions.Shelley Rainey
Self-released on 29 March 2017.
1. Adieu, Sweet Lovely Nancy
2. Durham Tower Song
3. The Field Singer
4. Ask the Time Away
5. Sowain Tul
6. The Union Miners
7. Horse on the Hill
8. Turner’s Bones
10. Gloucester Gaol (live)
11. The Cliffs (live)
12. Skylarks (live)
13. The Union Miners (live)
14. The Field Singer (live)