Sam Kelly’s been on the “one to watch” pile for some time now. With his two EPs (Your Way Home and Spokes) extremely well-received, expectations were high for his first album-length recording. The Lost Boys can only cement his growing reputation and confirm him as a genuinely exciting musical talent.
Not only is The Lost Boys the album title, it also represents a new incarnation of the touring band. To the existing Sam Kelly Trio (Sam, Jamie Francis and Evan Carson) are added the cello talents of Graham Coe and (full disclosure) Bright Young Folk’s own formidable fiddler Ciaran Algar. In the studio, additional support comes from Kitty Macfarlane, Josh Franklin and Lukas Drinkwater.
Sam’s smooth, tuneful voice is a pleasure to listen to. Undeniably contemporary and pop-inflected it may be, yet it easily carries the emotional weight of his chosen songs with impressive control. He’s also a sure-footed interpreter of songs, whether it’s the gentle regret of Down By The Salley Gardens, or seafaring betrayal on a perky version of The Golden Vanity.
The album largely comprises traditional songs, but they are not slavish reproductions or homages. Sam’s modern musical sensibilities are brought to bear on the folk canon and he is unafraid to remake songs, arranging them to suit his particular style. There’s a punchiness, a pulsing drive and strength to the tracks that’s reminiscent of Seth Lakeman’s style - which is no bad thing - and it’s not just because of the line “for king and country” on an extensively reworked The King’s Shilling.
Bounding straight in, the album opens with a rousing version of Jolly Waggoners followed by a rollicking banjo-led jig Banish Misfortune, with the fiddle rounding it out nicely. The driven version of US murder ballad Little Sadie is compelling and insistent, whilst Six Miners sets a bluegrass-inflected banjo against a sorry tale of exploited gold miners.
Then there’s Wayfaring Stranger. Now everyone, even Ed Sheeran, has done their own version of this song and they’re all different. That’s a good thing. But, still, essentially, it’s a spiritual, world-weary anticipation of heavenly release. Whilst making “the cross of self-denial” sound like a genuinely dreadful burden, this attacking, pulsating version seems oddly incongruous. Sam sings, “I’m going over Jordan” and it sounds like a threat. Like calling God out for a fight. It’s an interesting approach, but doesn’t quite gel somehow. It’s the only slightly jarring moment on an otherwise very strong album, though.
The band’s excellent original compositions like Spokes and the sorrowful, beautiful Eyes Of Men deserve special mention. They stand tall and proud alongside the traditional material. In particular, the grim, supernatural terrors evoked in Dullahan perfectly suit this dark time of year. From quietly eerie beginnings, it slowly builds, disquietingly off-kilter, finishing with some frantic fiddling as the band rocks out for all it’s worth. A fantastic end to an outstanding debut album.Su O’Brien
Released 17 November 2015 by TCR Music
Produced by Sam Kelly, Josh Franklin, Jamie Francis.
Mixed and mastered by Stu Hanna.
1. Jolly Waggoners
2. Banish Misfortune
3. Six Miners
4. The King’s Shilling
5. Little Sadie
6. The Golden Vanity
7. Eyes Of Men
9. Wayfaring Stranger
10. Down By The Salley Gardens