The new album from husband and wife duo Rapunzel and Sedayne, ‘Songs from the Barley Temple’, is a mesmerising mixture of old folk ballads and newly penned songs.
Opener Porcupine in November Sycamore serves as an overture for what is to come, with both voices complementing and balancing finely with the other. Ancient and modern instruments achieve the same: Sedayne (a.k.a. Sean Breadin) coaxes melody and atmosphere from a diverse and sometimes obscure collection of instruments, from the kemence to the kaossilator, by way of the cwrth.
Robin Redbreast’s Testament shivers and shimmers with eerie intensity, with Rapunzel’s (Rachel McCarron) voice soaring above Sedayne’s droning cwrth (a medieval bowed lyre) and ominous percussion. There’s hints of Sandy Denny and Jacqui McShee in Rapunzel’s strident modal singing style here, although Handsome Molly sounds like it predates Fairport and Pentangle. Aside from the playful substitution of London for Fleetwood as the ‘sea port town’ in the lyrics, the tune sounds like the early twentieth century American ballad that it is – Sedayne’s elastic violin style here doffs its cap to John Hartford, and Rapunzel’s claw-hammer five string banjo playing style to Uncle Dave Macon.
The appearance of Silver Dagger and Diver Boy on the record is the result of the duo’s fascination with field recordings and archives, chiefly made possible by American folklorists like Alan Lomax, and later Max Hunter. Just like the original versions of these now traditional songs, Rapunzel and Sedayne record everything live in an effort to eschew over-production, only adding layers or effects afterwards if absolutely necessary. This promotes spontaneity, and places the focus on the intuitive nature of the vocal harmonies – occasionally it sounds like there are more than two voices, such is the connection between them.
This telepathy is showcased again in Outlaws, again featuring the simple but evocative pairing of the banjo and fiddle. Originally a poem by the American criminal Bonnie Parker, Sedayne calls this the ‘focus track’ of Songs from the Barley Temple. It certainly accentuates the gothic credentials of the record, combining the myth and folklore of the outsider in three haunting minutes. The final couplet ‘The living man who knows no peace/and the dead man who knows no rest’, acknowledges the past and present – echoing the overarching theme of the record: Sedayne describes Songs of the Barley Temple as ‘of the present, but informed by the continuity of the past.’ The duo take traditional songs and let them speak for themselves, creating an album that is respectful of its roots – but not in thrall to them.
Video: performing live
Songs From The Barley Temple is available on Folk Police Recordings