Sussex based Hatful Of Rain’s follow up to 2011’s Way Up On The Hill strikes for the heart and head and succeeds on both counts. The Morning Key is a bold amalgam of Celtic, American and traditional English folk influences that play to strengths achieved through constant touring and song-writing refinement. The road has shaped and honed the individual elements into a cohesive whole. So, we get a hint of Appalachia in the steel guitar of These Streets, a nod to Nashville in the jubilant introduction to Map Or Compass, the involved, layered story-telling of Scarlet Ribbon and Evangeline. Through it all, the attractively clear English vowels of Chloe Overton (with the occasional adventurous trip to the microphone for Phil Jones) rise above the backing, drawing us in, encouraging us to celebrate and commiserate with the characters portrayed. It feels intimately old-fashioned but wide-screen enough to win new supporters.
First single These Streets is an up-tempo contemporary bluegrass number with a catchy melody and a poignant subject-matter (great video too, see below). It’s followed by country waltz Cannot Be The One and Good Way (To Make A Bad Man Worse), a not-wanted list of methods to, well, make a bad man worse, complete with Dylan reference and a great opening line, ‘Drunken grace / breath like mace’; not a lot of sympathy there then. Promised Land has a great arrangement, the underlying drone of the fiddle allowing the blended vocals to soar and the anti-war sentiment to shine. Overton excels on this song.
Styles change, combine and merge into one. Broad Woolly Back is shot through with loss, Jones’ singing sounding cathartic yet painful. The aforementioned Scarlet Ribbon is a real grower with a hint of Kate Rusby in the story of a woman who no longer wears said ribbon whilst her relationship disintegrates with alarming consequences. Superman has tongue firmly in cheek, a revisionist history of the man in blue tights, adding sibling rivalry to a tune straight from the Nickel Creek canon. Evangeline is a murder ballad with a twist and Stay’s dreamy acoustic sound is a pop hit in a world where the music industry operates how it should instead of how it does.
It doesn’t all work. Cannot Be The One could be a minute shorter and it could be argued that Train In The Distance is an album track too far (I know it’s common these days to pack the content in, but I yearn for the days of 10 or 11 great tracks – whatever happened to leaving ‘em wanting more?). These are minor criticisms though and by the time the joyously upbeat Little Bird signs off, the impression is of a band beginning to stretch its wings. If you like Rusby, the Wailin’ Jenny’s and Cara Dillon, add this to your ‘must listen’ list.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
23 – CD Launch Party
25 – Official CD Launch Date!
06-07 – Southwell Folk Festival, Nottinghamshire
07 – Wychwood Folk Club, Oxfordshire
09 – Reading University, Reading
10 – The Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
11 – The Musician, Leicester
12 – Garstang Unplugged, Lancashire
13 – The Chattery, Swansea
14 – The Square and Compass, Worth Matravers, Dorset
15 – Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury
21 – Chichester Festival, Chichester, West Sussex
28 – Union Music Store, Lewes (In Store)
30 – Queens Head, Islington, London – times etc tbc
More dates here:
The Morning Key is released 25th May