May is a big month on the folk calendar - we have morris season, Maypole dancing, May Queens, garlanding and a wealth of “as I walked out...” May songs. This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Lisa Knapp, and her limited edition Hunt the Hare EP explores the start of summer with an intriguing mix of original and traditional song.
A buzzing bee heralds the beginning of the month in atmospheric opener May Garland. The song is punctuated by a music box (it could even be an ice cream van), picked violin strings, a cuckoo clock, birdsong and Knapp’s own distinctive, subtle glottal stops, which add balance to her delicate phrasing.
The EP’s centrepiece is its two beautifully balanced title tracks. Part one’s curious, nature-inspired lyrics paint a vivid picture before Alasdair Roberts’ distinctive vocal chimes in for the “merry month of May” chorus. The theme is continued in part two, though here it’s Roberts’ distinctive, bony guitar picking that stands out, complemented by clicky percussion from Pete Flood and Gerry Diver’s cinematic fiddle playing. Knapp and co weave together a hypnotic, dramatic refrain, which carries a discomfiting sense of menace.
A fresh, clean-sounding arrangement of Pleasant Month of May follows. Knapp’s exuberant vocal performance helps build the piece into a glorious, exciting paean to the month.
There are more sound effects for the closing track, Green Jack. Church bells and a ticking clock introduce a still, dreamy sounding song inspired by the Jack in the Green festivals in Hastings and Deptford. Hammered dulcimer and what sounds like carousel music add an air of summery intrigue, before the bee and the birdsong return to take us back to where we started.
Hunt the Hare - A Branch of May is a great listen, somehow conveying the freshness of a cool, clear May morning, thanks mainly to Knapp’s tasteful, sparing arrangements, eye for lyrical detail and sweet, cool delivery. So much so that it feels a little inappropriate to listen to it in June, let alone November. The back of the CD cover reads, tantalisingly, ’chapter one’, so let’s hope she takes on another month soon.Mark Dishman
900-copy limited edition released 1 May 2012 on Ear to the Ground Records
1. May Garland
2. Hunt the Hare pt. 1
3. Hunt the Hare pt. 2
4. Pleasant Month of May
5. Green Jack