So-called Second Album Syndrome strikes fear into plenty of musicians, as they strive to live up to the promise of their first recording, especially if it was received with rapid success and acclaim. But when that debut was 2012’s Ground of Its Own, which was awarded the Arts Foundation prize and nominated for a prestigious Mercury Award, the task of producing a follow-up must be almost impossibly daunting. Sam Lee doesn’t appear to be concerned with such matters. When he’s not busy with running award-winning club and label the Nest Collective, he spends his time travelling and collecting old songs on his iPhone and laptop. Utilising Imogen Heap’s Hideaway Studio with Penguin Café’s Arthur Jeffes and Jamie Orchard-Lisle on shared production duties, Sam has completed his second report into his extensive research. The Fade in Time combines his field recordings with archive material and new versions that Sam has drawn from living sources, taking the listener on another fascinating aural adventure.
Johnnie O the Brine is the first of several songs that Sam learned from his mentor, the Scottish traveller Stanley Robertson. But his use of an upbeat tarantella rhythm, chirping crickets and droning hunting horns inspired by Tajikistan wedding bands, make it clear that this isn’t a typical British folk album. Sam’s distinctive vocal style retains a link to the traditional but his presentation of this story of hunting, poaching, slaughter and magic is only the beginning of the album’s delights. Napoleonic song Bonny Bunch of Roses, presented here in a condensed version, comes from octogenarian gypsy singer Freda Black, who Sam has visited often on the border of Hampshire and Sussex. An old, dusty recording of an Eastern European cantor singer sets the tone, before Sam’s modern version takes hold, with heartbeat pulsing drum, fife and Jonah Brody’s koto, which are soon joined by Flora Curzon’s violin.
Sam’s fascination with early recordings is evident elsewhere, too. The great ballad Lord Gregory, again from Robertson, allows the listener to eavesdrop on the work of collector Hamish Henderson, as Robertson’s elder cousin Charlotte Higgins provides the introduction “It’s an old song, old and a long, long time ago’, before she recites some of the song’s poetic lyrics. Sam’s swaying, soaring interpretation takes over with deliberate piano, bass, violin and Francesca Ter-Berg’s deep cello, again joined by koto and trumpet, courtesy of Steve Chadwick. Conversely, the tragic lament of herbal remedies and plant spirits, Over Yonders Hill ends with Sam’s own recording of Freda Black reciting the song’s verses to the soft metronomic sound of a clock in her sitting room, contrasting impressively with the expansiveness of the preceding arrangement.
Another of Robertson’s contributions, Moorlough Maggie, is given a Japanese flavour with rivulets of cascading koto notes while Lovely Mollyprepares for the imminent completion of the album, as it dispenses with instruments in favour of the beautifully soothing tones of the Roundhouse Choir. Closing song The Moss House is another minimalist piece, this time with a bare piano and occasional koto accompanying this mournful Irish song that uses the cuckoo as a metaphor for British occupation of the land.
With The Fade in Time, Sam Lee has created an album that pushes the boundaries of traditional folk to variously incorporate Bollywood beats with Polynesian and contemporary classical music. His use of current technology to skilfully combine archive recordings with distinctive modern interpretations of self-collected material has resulted in an impassioned album of hugely ambitious scope; a historical document that at the same time belongs firmly in the 21st century.
Review by: Roy Spencer
Live NPR Session
Special Levels Collective Evening
As part of Folk Radio UK’s ongoing partnership with Bridgwater Art Centre called “The Levels Collective” we have a number of upcoming special evenings including Sam Lee and Friends on TUE 5TH MAY, 2015 8pm
Tickets an details here