Ben Nicholls - Duets

2024 studio album

Duets - Ben Nicholls

the bright young folk review

To mangle the classic metaphor from the classic film ’Forrest Gump’ and his symbolic box of chocolates, when you listen to Duets by Ben Nicholls, you’ll never quite know what you are going to get next.

Ben Nicholls is an established double bass supremo in the folk universe; you may know him as a member of Kings of the South Seas, The Servants Ball or Full English to name just a few of his projects. But as this delicious selection of duets proves, his talents are not defined nor confined by that genre.

The list of collaborators is proof of Nicholl’s versatility and the resulting album has a broad musical scope. Sleeve notes reveal that the majority of the tracks on Duets were recorded spontaneously with live takes amidst touring commitments or around other sessions with the featured artists, as and when the opportunity arose in dressing rooms, church halls etc.

The album opens with Nadine Shah’s distinctive vocals in a sparse yet powerful ballad of twisted admiration for the Cuckoo; the bass line lending solemn darkness with an athletic pizzicato line. It then steps through to Corydon - where a bowed bass line halts and swoops amongst the earthy strength of Tim Eriksen’s contrapuntal twin vocals.

Indeed, each successive song brings another exposition of skilful and creative bass accompaniment, and allows the listener to appreciate the variety of techniques residing up Nicholl’s capacious musical sleeve.

Naturally, a good number of the songs presented have a tragic theme (as the folk genre seemingly demands) be it the accidental shooting of a sweetheart that resembled a swan in a certain light in the ballad Polly Vaughan, or the nostalgic remorse expressed by Martin Simpson in Flash Company, and each time the bass line helps to rend our hearts that little bit more. Such deep emotion is there in lament Down Where the Drunkards Roll; the stillness and subtlety is this arrangement is laden with melancholy.

And yet, where a lighter touch is needed, as in tunes such as Sam Sweeney’s Northern Frisk or Chris Vatalaro’s whimsical distorted Rolling Hornpipe the bass component is respectfully balanced to the duetting players’ instruments. Equally the perverse comedy sung by Chaim Tenenbaum in Munchhausen is complemented with exaggerated grandiose stylings.

Each track on Duets has its own merits and these ramblings of admiration will have to be curtailed here so that the reader may waste no time in purchasing / downloading / streaming this splendid collection and decide for themselves which is their own favourite flavour in the musical box of chocolates.

Angela Stock

Released 5th April 2024 on CD & digitally on Hudson Records. Produced by Ben Nicholls.

1. Cuckoo
2. Corydon
3. Down Where the Drunkards Roll
4. Rolling Hornpipe
5. Polly Vaughan
6. I Wonder What’s Keeping My True Love Tonight
7. Tibby Fowler
8. The Greenland Whale Fisheries
9. Munchhausen
10. Flash Company
11. Northern Frisk
12. The Fire
13. Bloody Gardener
14. Elfen Waltz

Ben Nicholls discography