Much of what we welcome under the banner of folk music would have rejected the tag in the not-too-distant past, preferring instead to go by acoustic or indie or nu-something-or-other. The Big Eyes Family Players, though, are folk through and through. It’s a tag they invite, welcome and subvert all at once on this complex and rewarding album.
Given the top billing for which they always seemed destined following their much-heralded collaboration with James Yorkston, Folk Songs, the Players are given free rein to flex their folk muscles and experiment, taking traditional songs and arranging them in ways that combine the old and the new. That this is continuation of what they began with Yorkston is clear – for one thing he appears on the album, for another it is called Folk Songs II. But there is great scope for variety with different singers invited to take turns at playing at band leader.
This leads to the wonderful spectacle of FFS favourite Nancy Elizabeth singing ‘Farewell My Dear Nancy’ in characteristically fragile fashion, with the depth of a full band adding complexity. ‘The Clyde Water’, sung by Heather Ditch, is a model of trad folk until a synthesiser kicks in out of nowhere. Meanwhile ‘Don’t You Be Foolish, Pray’, sung by James William Hindle, couldn’t sound more like a Belle & Sebastian song if it were a Belle & Sebastian song on a Belle & Sebastian album sung by Belle & Sebastian.
This is an album that exists to experiment, and as such few are likely to be satisfied by everything here – those who enjoy the sweetness of Hindle’s offering may be challenged by Alasdair Roberts’ exquisitely ragged vocals on ‘The Coast O’ Spain’ and ‘Maureen From Gippursland’, while some may struggle with the less traditional additions to the arrangements. But anyone who can’t find plenty to be excited about really doesn’t have the right to call themselves a folk fan.
Words: Ali Mason