James Findlay’s voice is a heady mix of youthful exuberance and heavy-drinking song sessions. Both young and fresh, and tinged with the impression of years of experience and hardship, he is a man capable of telling a convincing tale.
Sport and Play is the Young Folk Award winner’s debut album on a major label, and sets an impressive standard in balladeering.
The album has a glorious opening with Jolly Joe the Collier’s Son, the most upbeat and exuberant track. James’s fiddle playing is playful and adept, whilst Alex Cumming (Dyer:Cummings) provides a driving accordian accompaniment.
Sorry the Day I was Married sees James providing some lovely vocal harmonies to himself in a woman’s tale of regret, which couples with another vivacious fiddle part for a cheery feminist view of the world.
However, upbeat fiddling is not the only weapon in James’s folk arsenal. At nearly nine minutes, his unaccompanied rendition of Tam Lin shows great confidence. Fortunately this is neither misplaced nor comes across as cocky. Instead it is a masterclass in the art of unaccompanied story-telling through song.
James is also a guitar player, and references Nic Jones as an influence. This can be heard on George Collins in particular, but James certainly has his own style.
One of James’s biggest talents, and one he demonstrates amply through Sport and Play is his ability to tell a good story, no matter how complicated. There is something very real in his delivery that sucks the listener into a tale, whether singing from the male or female perspective, of true love, drowning or childbirth.
Black Hills of Mendip, the one non-traditional track of the album, further demonstrates this, memorializing the oft-forgotten Somerset coal fields. The absolute permanence of the hills standing above the coal fields gives a stark and beautiful image.
Sport and Play is not a short listen, with twelve tracks, and little concession to track lengths. However, it is well worth spending time over. Old favourites, like White Cockade, are treated to a rendering both reverential and fresh. Less well-known songs are presented with feeling and enticing musical delivery.
Sport and play are mentioned in both the first and last songs.
If the album has a flaw, it is that it would be nice to hear what James can do with a tune, as particularly his fiddle playing is so exciting on the songs. However, Sport and Play strongly suggests that he will be able to do that on his albums to come.Liz Osman
Released on Fellside records on 12th February.
1. Jolly Joe the Collier’s Son
2. Black Hills of Mendip
3. Tam Lin
4. George Collins
5. Sorry the Day I was Married
6. Dives and Lazarus
7. I’m a Rover
8. When a Man’s in Love
9. Fair Mary of Wallington
10. The White Cockade
11. Lakes of Shilin
12. Foggy Dew