Darwin Song Project - Shrewsbury 2009

2009 live recording

Shrewsbury 2009 - Darwin Song Project

the bright young folk review

In March 2009 a group of musicians assembled for a Shropshire retreat to ponder and be inspired by the 200th anniversary of the birth of a certain Charles Darwin and the 150th of his seminal work ’The Origin of Species’ in which the idea of evolution was introduced - creationists look away now! The result was an album produced by and for the Shrewsbury Folk Festival where the artists will also perform live.

Chosen to participate were Rachael McShane (Bellowhead), Stu Hanna (Megson), Emily Smith, Chris Wood (The Imagined Village), Karine Polwart, Jez Lowe (Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies) together with American artists Mark Erelli and Krista Detor.

You might think this kind of topical project could be a recipe for disaster, leading to a flat and contrived album produced to a deadline? That couldn’t be further from the truth - the Darwin Song Project has produced one of the finest albums of the year. This is distinctly an album of songs, with strong lyrics inspired by Darwin’s life and work. Its fascinating to me that the themes brought out most strongly are those of Darwin not as a scientist, but as a man, husband and father. The adventure and loss of a long sea voyage into the unknown and the constant worry of the religious Emma Darwin that her disbelieving husband would be lost to her in heaven, and the grief of his daughter’s death are powerful.

The standout tracks are Karine Polwart’s heartbreaking ’We’re all leaving’, which beautifully links the loss of Darwin’s daughter to his stark theory of survival of the fittest, a thought he ponders while walking his ’thinking path’ in the garden of the house. Also excellent is ’Jemmy Button’, the story of a native taken on the voyage of the Beagle and paraded around London before being returned to his own island, and Erelli & Polwart’s ’Mother of Mysteries’ in which Darwin’s ideas are evocatively brought to life.

A different note is sounded in ’We’ll hunt him down’ a pointed comment on religious opposition to science teaching before the superb a cappella finale ’You may stand mute’. I heartily recommend this album, both as a fine collection of songs in their own right, and also as an inspiration to a little further reading.

Mike Hough

Recorded live in Shrewsbury on March 13th 2009 at the first performance of the Darwin Song Project songs. Mixed by Stu Hanna. Released in August 2009 by the Shewsbury Folk Festival.

1. Trust in the Rolling Ocean
2. Heavy in My Hand
3. Turtle Soup
4. Kingdom Come
5. The Merchant’s Question
6. Thinking Path
7. Jemmy Button
8. From Miss Emma Brawley
9. The Earl of Darwin’s Farewell / Save A Place
10. Emma’s Lullaby
11. We’re All Leaving
12. Mother of Mysteries
13. Will You be Waiting?
14. Mother of My Soul
15. Clock of the World
16. We’ll Hunt Him Down
17. You May Stand Mute

Darwin Song Project discography