The debut EP from A Murder of Rooks features pared down versions of four traditional songs. Simplicity and restraint is the key and sparse musical arrangements and unadorned vocals from Isobel Morris breath life into tales of unlucky thieves, transsexual sailors and grieving widows.
The version of ‘Sam Hall’ paints a picture of a more likable rogue than the foul-mouthed murderer featured on Johnny Cash’s final album, which is down to Nottingham based guitarist Gary Southwell’s passion for research and his success in unearthing an older, English version of the lyrics. The title song, ‘Never Came He’, is a traditional Scottish lament recorded by June Tabor with the title ‘Bonny James Campbell’. Removing the name from the title gives the song a more universal appeal which is partly the point of A Murder of Rooks’ minimalist approach. Morris shuns vocal athletics in search of the emotional directness of the song’s original melody and narrative.
It’s not all sorrow and grief, there is bawdy humour too in the story of ‘The Handsome Cabin Boy’. In ‘Three Ravens’, the humour takes a macabre twist when the birds consider making breakfast of a dead knight as Southwell thumps his nine string guitar-harp. The sound he makes resonates fathoms below Jim Kimberley’s lightly plucked ukele and guitar strings adding bass and depth to the song without being over-complicated.
Words: Jon Cheetham