It is such a common credit on folk albums, I’m surprised nobody thought of adopting it as a band name before. Some of the names behind TRADarrr will be familiar to anyone conversant with the folk scene, most especially fiddle and mandolin player Guy Fletcher, a sessioneer whose credits include keyboards for both Cockney Rebel and Roxy Music and a long time collaboration with Mark Knopfler, singer, fiddle player and cellist Marion Fleetwood who is part of both The Gerry Colvin Band and Jigantics, and guitarist and pedal steel maestro PJ Wright, the lynchpin of The Dylan Project and Little Johnny England, from which Mark Stevens handles drums, cornet and keyboards with the line up completed by Northamptonshire guitarist Gregg Cave whose latest album Old England Grown New was recently reviewed by Folk Radio here.
All members contribute to vocals and as you might expect from the name, the material is, mostly, a collection of traditional English folk songs and tunes, thereby rise to the credit trad.arr. TRADarrr. Conceived in the mode of the 70s folk rock revival, the fairly inevitable comparison will be early Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, to which end the album’s guests just happen to include three of the latter’s current roster (Pegg, Leslie and Sanders) as well as their erstwhile guitarist Jerry Donahue. All have likely played with at least one of those involved at some time over the years, with guest guitarist Pete Scrowther having had his songs recorded by Little Johnny England .
Pretty much laying their cards on the table from the start, the album opens with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite (Pt 1) adopting the original orchestral arrangement pretty much note for note (though Ralph probably never imaged it slipping into a reggae beat or featuring Mariachi trumpet) and featuring Ric Sanders on fiddle.
Fleetwood steps up to the spotlight for a lovely reading of My Lagan Love, her a capella intro giving way to double-tracked harmonies and, around the three minute mark a throaty appearance of Wright on slide and sitar.
Gregg Cave provides the music and arrangement for Mad Dog, a slow stomp setting of Oliver Goldsmith’s An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog poem about a rabies outbreak (complete with a faint spoken intro of the opening lines) that, in classic early 70s folk-rock style, transitions into a sprightly fiddle jig. Adopting the Shirley Collins arrangement, Glenlogie features Scrowther on vocals for a robust take on the Scottish ballad about the girl who threatens to set herself ablaze when the local laird rebuffs her advances.
Cave steps up again for Adieu (a version of Here’s Adieu to All Judges and Juries), not only singing it, but writing the new billowing tune to the account of a man awaiting transportation and promising to return to his love. Set to the Morris tune The Week Before Easter, Fairport’s Chris Leslie takes lead with Fleetwood on harmony and Stevens on cornet for Whitsun Dance, Austin John Marshall’s poignant number about the legacy of the First World War and an anti-war song in the tradition of Green Fields of France and Where Have All The Flowers Gone.
Cave and Fleetwood share vocals for one of the standout cuts, a fine melancholic reading of Simple Ploughboy (girl dresses as bloke to find her lover who her parents have had press ganged), the former providing new chords, with a nod to Levon Helm and some fine throaty electric guitar from Donahue, then it’s back to Scrowther and some warm horn and cornet from Stevens for the evergreen Jacobite ballad Derwentwater’s Farewell.
Vocals take a rest for a couple of morris tunes with melodeons a go on the sprightly Princess Royal and a galumphing Upton Stick Dance before things close-up with the album’s most muscular electric folk rock number, everyone contributing to the vocal mix, pairing a punchy Nottamun Town with a fiery, cornet-streaked take on Appalachian murder ballad Pretty Polly, climaxing with Wright letting rip on electric and slide, the only downside being that, even at six minutes, it fades away far too soon.
It may not be particularly in step with the current vogue for contemporary restylings of traditional folk songs, but this will nestle very comfortably in the same CD wallet as such 70s folk rock classics as Please To See The King and Liege and Lief.
Review by: Mike Davies
Cautionary Tales is released on June 1st via Hedge of Sound Records
Order it via Amazon