The Spyglass & the Herringbone, Jackie Oates’ sixth solo album, stands in stark relief to its predecessor, Lullabies. The gentle night songs of that record have been replaced by an eclectic mix of, mostly, upbeat songs drawn from a variety of sources both traditional and modern.
If the album has a theme, it’s one of celebration. Hail! Hail! The First of May is a joyous version of Dave Webber’s song about the Padstow May Day festivities. Whilst The Halsway Carol (By Nigel Eaton and Iain Frisk) welcomes the coming of winter and the longest night.
Englishness is celebrated in another of Oates’ clever covers of contemporary pop songs. This time she has chosen The Sundays’ Can’t Be Sure. Live for tomorrow, the song says, even though England has miserable weather, why cry? Arranged for strings and harp by Joe Duddell, this is one of the highlights of the album.
A guided tour around The Foundling Museum was the inspiration for Chris Sarjeant’s The Spyglass & the Herringbone. This is a broken token song but in this case the token is given to a baby so that its mother can find him again should she be in a position to take the child back.
The Yellow Bittern is a setting of the 18th century Irish poem by Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna. The poem tells of the writer finding a yellow bittern dead of thirst on a rock. Although he’s saddened by this sight, it encourages the writer to enjoy his life while he can. The song is sensitively arranged by Oates and Sarjeant who also plays a beautiful guitar solo at the end of the piece.
There’s no shortage of traditional songs on the album. Highlights include a morris-ed up arrangement of The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife and a spirited rendition of The Doffing Mistress. The Irish origins of the latter song are nodded to in the deft flute playing of Calum Stewart.
The album ends with another Irish song, The Banks of the Bann. Accompanied by just guitar and viola, Oates’ voice is the perfect instrument to sing this song of separation.
In the end, it’s the voice that matters. Songs aren’t worth anything unless the singer can deliver them to the listener with conviction and honesty. Jackie Oates has a clear direct voice that gets straight to the heart of these songs. The Spyglass & the Herringbone will surely give a great deal of pleasure to all who hear it.Stephen Witkowski
Released on ECC on the 27th April 2015.
1. John Blunt
2. Can’t be Sure
3. The Doffing Mistress
4. The Spyglass & the Herringbone
5. Hail! Hail! The First of May
6. Take This Letter to my Mother
7. Robbers’ Retreat
8. The Yellow Bittern
9. The Halsway Carol
10. A Cornish Young Man
11. The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife
12. Banks of the Bann