August 29, 2019
Hannah James and the JigDoll Ensemble – The Woman And Her Words
I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed folk music until this delight came my way. Fêted as one of the best accordionists of the British Folk scene, Hannah James has created an album of great beauty.
The music, with its stripped back grace, creates swells of captivating sound on a large yet calm sea of traditional folk strings. Her ensemble wasrecorded in Budapest and it is an international group gathered from Hungary, Estonia, Scotland and France – Kate Young (fiddle and vocals), Marti Tärn (bass and production), Andras Dés (percussion) and Toby Kuhn (cello).
The album’s musical roots lie in earlier centuries but lyrically it covers contemporary topics: a world with too much social media, the everyday burdens of busy lives and our need for environmental awareness. “Hush Now” is a perspective on gun laws. The hard edge of the cello underpins her crystal clear vocal delivering a compelling analysis. With considerable craft, she encapsulates every searching conversation we have about the recent mass shootings in the US.
“The Woman And Her Words” is a captivating story of a modern family man with conflicting priorities between his job, wife, parents and child. Plucked strings create a rhythm as she delivers her plaintive and simple vocal. Eventually the accompaniment builds and a backdrop of urgency becomes evident. He appears to be letting them all down. An apparition in the form of an old lady appears and gives him guidance.
“Her words ring so loudly through his body
Waves of stifled joy and sadness charge his tears
And when he wipes his eyes so he can see again
The woman and her words have disappeared”
The story finishes with a twist.
Throughout the record James goes for a stripped back sound on all the arrangements. The accomplished ensemble create space for her voice that often fits like another instrument rather an individual focus. James adds dance to her repertoire and throughout her step dance and percussion adds to the rhythms. This is clearly evident during “Shields Time” where the polyrhythms of her feet and the band weave together whilst harmony voices and the violin embellish the sound.
A complete treat. (I need to listen to some more contemporary folk!)