Jack McNeill and Charlie Heys have already gained an enviable reputation. Finalists in the BBC Radio2 Young Folk Awards, their first two albums were released to quite some critical acclaim. They serve a sound which is fresh and innovative amongst contemporaries, who are too often staid and dusty. This is no average folk singer-songwriter fare. McNeill’s strong, husky voice and expressive guitar are accompanied by Heys’ exquisite and sometimes haunting fiddle-playing. On this, their third release, the Birmingham-based duo has added Scottish harp, double bass and percussion, thereby developing their musical style. There is a momentum building within this act.
On Two Fine Days the stories are told with poetic warmth, intelligent lyrics and beautiful harmonies. The opener, Last Orders is an upbeat, heartening and catchy song with its home in the rocky Highlands as the fiddle skips and the soft harmonies echo upon the Gaelic landscape. The journey then heads south to the border as Debatable Lands tells the story of hundreds of years of conflict between the Scots and the English. It is a sparse and terrible tale which depicts a bloody, forsaken history. The hopeless scene manifests through the melancholy beauty of the music. This song is not about taking sides or political posturing. Rather it reveals the story with a sorrowful charm.
The title track is a tender song looking back at the people, words and small decisions that can have such a profound effect on a life and can stay with somebody for a lifetime. Fiddle takes equal billing with the voice, both lyrical and musical story-telling.
There’s Something In The Telling is another poignant and uplifting track as Heys’ enchanting string work intertwines with McNeil’s hushed vocal. A story of swimming, shivering in the cold water – a dark night of embracing experience and forming one’s own destiny.
The delicate Seaglass is a beautifully worked song with a tune at its heart that lingers once the album has concluded. Seaglass refers to “bits of glass that have been tossed and tumbled in the waves to finally be thrown back to shore”. McNeill alludes to unexpected beauty being created from the breaking of glass – a remoulding, a rebirth.
There is optimism and an ingrained sense of wonder as the album draws to the final stanza and Little Ginger softly weaves it’s atmospheric, instrumental way, and the credits roll. This tune is subtle and traditional and eases the album to a close.
The song writing on Two Fine Days is undeniably moving and it would seem that Jack and Charlie have really hit form on this one, having already impressed on their previous outings. The folkiness of Heys’ fiddle is well-balanced with the Jack McNeill’s wonderfully earthy vocals whose modern narrative captures the imagination from the outset. It is pleasing that they have expanded the band on this album as this has given them more room for development and more creative options. There is a feeling that this is only an early step on a long journey.
This is a progressive and forward-thinking folk album which is beautiful, relaxing, intelligent and engaging. Those seeking something new and distinct will find it here in this impressive release.
Review by: Craig Walker
Video: Last Orders
12/05.12 Staffordshire, Leek Arts Festival folk Day
18 – 20/05.12 Peak District, Edale Folk Festival
20/07.12 Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes International Festival
02- 05/08.12 Wickham, Wickham Festival
23 – 27/08.12 Purbeck, Purbeck Folk Festival