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The Furrow Collective: Fathoms — wild and lonely tales

The Furrow Collective: Fathoms — wild and lonely tales

November 04
06:36 2018

In their day jobs, the four members of The Furrow Collective are among the sharpest of young English and Scottish folk songwriters — Emily Portman’s Coracle was a highlight of 2015, Rachel Newton’s Here’s My Heart Come Take It of 2016. Lucy Farrell’s contributions have pepped up everyone from her other bandmates to Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band. And the Stakhanovite Alasdair Roberts was in action as recently as April with What News, accompanied by piano and dulcitone.

The Furrow Collective — founded when the women, all irregular collaborators, made a speculative approach to Roberts that they were pleasantly surprised to find accepted — is reserved for traditional songs. The first album, At Our Next Meeting, was a hand-carried letter from the Old, Weird Britain; the second, Wild Hog, followed folk music’s transatlantic crossing with songs from Jean Ritchie and the banjo-driven title track.

Fathoms journeys over even wilder and lonelier seas. It starts with “Davy Lowston”, a New Zealand song about stranded whale hunters, sung a cappella by all four. It ends, again a cappella, with the Irish broadside ballad “Our Ship She’s Ready”, one of many tales of emigration. “Do not forget, love/do not grieve”, they lament in their farewell. A flourish of guitar segues it into “I Am a Maid That’s Deep in Love” — sung more sturdily than the frothy well-known version by Pentangle — a quintessential example of the genre of folk songs in which maidens disguise themselves as sailors to search out their lovers, and fend off the advances of captains and shipmates. And then a final snatch of “Our Ship”, in Roberts’s low tones. In between there is more nautical action on “The Cabin Boy” — with one American and one Scottish version shunted together.

And, as usual for a traditional collection, there is gore aplenty. The prickling banjo of “My Son David” (also known as “Edward”) frames a murderous son and his complicit mother’s roundabout confession. “Down by the Greenwoodside” has at its centre another cruel mother, Newton’s singing made extra eerie by howling atmospherics. Elsewhere there are Dark-Eyed Gypsies, cruel graves, murderous aristocrats and false lovers aplenty — and the quartet’s fiddles, harmonium, electroharp and banjolin skulk behind the singers as if hiding in dark corners.


Fathoms’ is released by Hudson

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