I was pleased and honoured when my friends Kath Bird, Sophia Colkin, and Rob Wheaton, of Folk band Devonbird kindly sent me a pre-release download of their second album Turning Of The Year some time before it was due to go on sale to the general public. They asked me to write about it for their press release, and review it on my website too. I was of course, only too pleased to do so.
I was very impressed with the prototype versions of some of the songs that I’d heard on Garageband software that my good friend Rob (the band’s guitarist) had played me (in confidence!) some months before the studio recording began; so I knew that I should expect something good. It was a long wait, but worth it; as this second album is even better than their debut, Hangman’s Daughter (2013).
This fine new opus sees Devonbird in full flight; with Kath, Sophia and Rob melded together as a unit and spreading their wings confidently. They have comfortably embraced some of the various sub-genres of Folk music ranging from the Traditional to the Progressive. Turning Of The Year is a collection of nine excellent songs – mostly penned by Kath, and inspired by local / family history; legend; Folklore and spirituality.
The opening track ‘Star People’ is one of those that I was familiar with some while ago; and is one of my favourites on the album. It is a Progressive-Folk piece that is really quite astounding. It starts with the ethereal sound of whale-song; and has an epic, desperate, and wondrous vibe to it throughout; which enhances the subject matter. It is dedicated to adventurers in days of yore, who have experienced being plucked to safety at the moment of impending doom by Guardian Angels – or ‘Star People’. Kath’s heartfelt vocals; along with Sophia’s and Rob’s respective musicianship make this a great opener.
The two-part track ‘Greenwood Tree / Jenny Wren’ (written by Kath, and fiddle player Sophia respectively), was first aired at the excellent Exeter Oxjam gig back in November last year (see my review on this site #28). It was also the song chosen by the band for a video (see my article #58 ). Its a cheerful little song; simple but effective in construction, and builds nicely to a climax in the ‘Jenny Wren’ section where Sophia gives a fine display of her art. Its a celebration of the trees: ‘I love to see the fruits, and the shoots, and the roots’ sings Kath. Think of Beltane or Orchard Wassailing and you’ll catch the drift – the changing seasons; or the turning of the year. I missed Kath’s ‘Whoop! Whoop!’ at the intersection of the two parts, that she utters when the band perform the song live, though! There is a link to the video below.
‘Mary’ is a fine traditional sounding tune. Its about Kath’s Nan Mary, who came from Dartmoor and worked for the noted scholar, the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (The writer of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ among many other hymns).
The tempo is picked up for ‘Rain Dance’. It is, Kath tells me ‘…quite simply about witchcraft on Dartmoor!’ It is a lively little song, perfectly evoking the folkloric beliefs of some Devonfolk. I can see the witches dancing around the oak tree as I write!
Title track ‘Turning Of The Year’ is another favourite of mine. It is a love song about the meeting of ‘Twin Flames’ (akin to ‘Soul-Mates’ I think), and steeped in the esoteric spirituality of New Age mysticism. Musically too, I find this song very charming; the vocal melody from Kath, and the harmonies from Rob are superb; all backed by wonderful fiddle from Sophia.
Apparently, driving home along the A303 from their appearance at Hadfest in Hertfordshire in 2013, Kath had been inspired to write ‘Dead King’s Land’ as they passed Stonehenge and its satellite monuments. This sacred and ancient landscape has provided a muse for many an artist; and she came up with this wonderful song as a result. It is another that I first enjoyed in its seminal form; but I was very impressed indeed with the finished article. Its another Prog-Folk piece with a beautifully arpeggiated multi-tracked intro from Rob; sympathetic fiddle from Soph; and more haunting vocals by Kath. Lyrically steeped in the mists of prehistory, Kath asks for the Dead Kings not to be forgotten. It is a song that greatly appeals to me. One of the best on the album, for several reasons.
‘Rose’ is apparently about love in its purest of forms. In this song one lover has to wait for her soul-mate (or ‘Twin Flame’?) to return from overseas. It is a beautifully sad song with a yearning feel to it.
‘King Of The Fairies / Morrison’s Jig’ are traditional Irish tunes; interpreted by the band in their own inimitable style. A beautiful piece; it is a vehicle for Sophia’s violin in perfect synch with Kath’s whistle. As in ‘Greenwood Tree’, the piece comes to life for the second part. Traditionalists couldn’t complain about this one!
Finally, ‘Rebecca Downing’s Lament’ is an interesting song. Kath took the words from a Broadside by T.Brice, and put them to a sympathetic trad-style Folk tune. Its about the last woman to be burnt at the stake for witchcraft, in Exeter in 1782 – at the age of only 15! Its a well thought out song beginning with an ominous death knell from a church bell. Kath’s vocals and Soph’s fiddle are exceptionally sympathetic on this one.
All in all, this is a wonderful album in my humble opinion. It is clear that the band have tangibly progressed as a unit. Particular strengths are: Kath’s song-writing skills; Sophia’s continually impressive fiddling; and Rob’s increasingly good vocal harmonies – he plays the guitar pretty well too!
Recording was done at The Green Room in Devon; and production was by Mark Tucker – who had previously worked on their debut album too; so it was a foregone conclusion that he’d be asked to do this one as well. The CD comes in a standard Jewel-Case, with a very inventive and colourful design depicting the ‘Turning of the year’ (not easy to achieve with four seasons and only three band members!) Photography is by Brent Ellicott and George Totorean. I think I’d have liked the lyrics printed out on the cover, but this is an oh so minor complaint!
Turning Of The Year is to be released on 9th October; and is quite likely to be my choice for Folk album of the year; so its a big recommendation from me! Yes, I know I’m biased because I’m friends with the band, but it really is an excellent album, so I’d be spouting superlatives about it, even if I didn’t know them personally! Give it a listen and you’ll see what I mean. PTMQ
Here is a link to the official video for the song ‘Greenwood Tree / Jenny Wren’. (See my write-up on the making of this video Entry #58)…..
And here is a link to the band’s website; with details of gigs etc (including the album launch gig on 9th October)…