Oka Vanga : Dance of the Copper Trail31.03.2017 : Crazy Bird Records
I have always struggled with English folk and roots music, for me it has always been unlikely to aurally result in a world turned upside down unless it came with an explicit political stance. The tectonics of identity are partly responsible for this, but in the last year three releases have challenged my bias - it is hard to deny the grace of Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage's debut, the vivid spirit of Alden, Patterson & Dashwood, and now the emotionally articulate instrumental fluidity of this release from duo Angela Meyer and William Cox, who present themselves to the world as Oka Vanga.
The influences engaged here are complex, so in truth a simple 'English' characterisation is already wide of the actual mark - Angela is originally from Cape Town, William from London; their first album Pilgrim was an interchanging, whirlwind journey of acoustic guitar sounds and won FATEA Instrumental Album Of The Year Award Winner 2014. A delightfully understated, and well received, EP (Tales of Eyam) followed and saw Angela finding her voice, where previously the focus had been the interplay between their two guitars.
She continues to sing expressively and exquisitely on all but one of the tracks on Dance of the Copper Trail, the exception being the instrumental Don't Let the Clouds Roll In. As guests Oliver Copeland's double bass and Patsy Reid's fiddle add expert rhythm and accent to the music, but as for Pilgrim it is the duo's guitars that effortlessly enchant (as do the ukulele and mandolin parts that William also offers). Throughout it is not so much that there is the 'in the room feeling' that marks out some exceptional albums, but that you can actually sense the absorption, concentration and state of flow in their playing, and it draws you in irrevocably.
Ashes to Wind (a song about motherhood and linked to Avebury), an elegant reading of the standard She Moves Through the Fair that shows it can still breathe with life and emotion in the right hands, and The Devil's Tide (a hell raising 17th century female Irish pirate eulogised in song) are highlights, but it is a strong album from start to finish.
The sleeve notes for the track Don't Let the Clouds Roll In describe how music helped them get through a difficult period in 2016 - it's an apt annotation for the whole; Dance of the Copper Trail is a record that can warmly close out the cacophony of the world whilst it is playing, and that is no small achievement - as Billy Bragg might have said, virtuosity never tested is no virtuosity at all.
OKA VANGA I She Moves Through the Fair (Live)