Alden, Patterson & Dashwood : Call Me Home2016
"It's lovely stuff" - Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2 Folk Show 2016
Dylan, talking about first hearing Woody Guthrie in the documentary No Direction Home - and capturing something vital in the makeup of authentic folk music - said, "You could listen to his songs and learn how to live". It is a point reiterated several times in the film, as he realises what he might do and the radical direction he could choose; and a poignant quote now, because in these dark, increasingly dystopian, times you might wonder what words could even be sung that might carry the wisdom and humanity necessary to give any sense of direction.
In no way intended as an answer, this CD arrived in its handprinted case packaged like something carefully crafted but peripheral. When you listen, to extend what Mark Radcliffe has already said, you find it is lovely to the point of being a revolutionary act.
Norfolk's Christina Alden (vocals & guitar), Alex Patterson (violin, mandolin and, on this debut, production) and Noel Dashwood (dobro guitar and vocals) have released an album of simple but spirited vocal and instrumental elements carefully interwoven until the songs are still understated but joyful, and in places ecstatic.
From beginning to end Call Me Home is first rate contemporary English folk flavoured with a subtle Appalachian Americana; there are three traditional songs and six self-penned in a seamless flow. Of the former the lullaby Sweet and Low - with words by Alfred Tennyson set to music by English composer Joseph Barnby in 1863 - is beautiful and suitably lulling; The Riddle Song has older roots, and was recorded soulfully by Joan Baez on her debut - here it is almost gleeful, and Mole in the Ground, originally collected in 1901 in North Carolina, is bright and jaunty.
Of their own songs the title track, Call Me Home, is a standout with rippling, picked guitar entwined with the vocal, and gorgeous harmonies on the chorus; and it is matched by Water Song, which is enigmatic - opening with Christina's voice wrapping around the lines,"No it doesn't end up like we planned, and the boats don't always return to land", the repeated couplets that follow don't build directly on the potential sombre theme, instead they are open and enchanting. With drifting harmonies and violin embellishment The Moon Song is similarly dreamy and effective.
It is all put together gently; the dobro and violin are important to the sound, adding vitality and texture, but you are not always consciously aware of them as separate entities in the mix as the music mostly moves by at the pace of the Broads; perfect, beguiling and pastoral. The musicianship is exemplary and Christina's vocals superb - when added together they become compelling.
In a very different time Woody Guthrie wrote direct, honest, moral songs that had resonance. Now our lives are cluttered, intruded on by media and technology, and our politics soured - leaving a complex ambivalence. Seemingly out of sync this album has a timeless innocence and clarity - and that is where its power as folk comes from, its implicit values not its words - vibrantly performed may be, but convincingly wise and compassionate in its soul; a truly brilliant debut.
ALDEN, PATTERSON & DASHWOOD I Sweet and Low