The Green Lady is an album of 12 traditional songs with one instrumental penned by Ste Moncrieff. The songs deal with age-old themes of love and loss. The loss may arise from death, accidental, magical or murderous, or may simply be a parting forced by circumstance; a stock in trade of folk song over the centuries. What sets The Green Lady apart in a modern context is the often beguiling simplicity with which the songs have been treated. This is an album in which vocal and instrumental arrangements are pared back to allow the strength of the lyrics to engage the listener to the full.
The names Caz Forbes and Ste Moncrieff were new to me when this album arrived, though they are by no means new arrivals on the London folk scene where they’ve been performing for the last few years as The Raven. They’ve also earned themselves an impressive series of support slots to the likes of Spiers and Boden, Eliza Carthy and Chris Wood. They’ve previously released a self-recorded album, Black is the Colour, but The Green Lady is their first studio produced album, recorded by Doug Bailey at Wild Goose Studios.
Both Caz and Ste sing, Caz more commonly taking the lead with Ste providing harmony but they are equally comfortable either reversing the roles or with an acapella duet. Between them they can supply accompaniment on guitar, flute and concertina and for this album they’ve also brought in Gill Redmond to provide cello. Caz is Australian by birth, Ste from Liverpool, origins which have to some extent shaped the selection of songs on the album. The final track, The Little Fish, was collected in Australia by John Meredith, possibly adapted from a Portuguese import, whilst two very familiar Liverpool songs, Maggie May and The Leaving of Liverpool appear in quite unfamiliar arrangements.
The Leaving of Liverpool splendidly illustrates one way in which Caz and Ste can breathe new life into such familiar material. It has long been treated as a raucous sing along song but the story it tells evokes quite a different mood, telling of a sailor forced to leave home and love for what he knows will be a dangerous, hardship-ridden journey. In the hands of Caz and Ste, taken at a slow tempo and with delicate harmonies and ornamentation, the heartache and yearning of the tale is brought to the fore, and it works beautifully. Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy is also taken at a slower pace than one normally hears, but this is already a slow tempo song and slowing it further doesn’t have the same effect. It is also a song that invites simple but effective harmonies and so the decision to work it as a solo vocal for Ste seems strange given the delicious interplay of the duo’s voices throughout most of the album.
As befits the subject matter, the predominant mood of the album is quietly soulful giving the listener time to be intrigued by the stories that alternate the joys of love with the pangs of loss. Listeners also get space to appreciate not only the niceties of the vocal arrangements but also the sparse but carefully constructed accompaniments, principally driven by guitar but making excellent use of flute and concertina. Interspersed through the album, though, are three more upbeat, indeed toe-tapping songs, Maggie May, The Whitby Maid and Riding Down to Portsmouth. The balance between the two moods works to shepherd the listener through a fine set of traditional songs performed by two musicians who have the skills and imagination to tease out the subtleties of meaning and melody from songs both familiar and not so well known.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
LAUNCH GIG 25th NOVEMBER AT GREEN NOTE CAMDEN