The last decade or so has seen a very welcome youthful trend in folk and traditional music acts, helping to dispel the long-standing and unfounded comedic myth that the genre is populated by ear-clasping middle-aged men in cable-knit sweaters. Somerset-based the Drystones belong firmly in the former camp. The duo presented their debut The Album (or What You Will), a rousing set of a six instrumental pieces in 2012, when they were both just 16. Now at the ripe old age of 18, Ford Collier and Alex Garden have already performed together for over three years in between completing their GCSEs and A Levels. Before setting off for university at opposite ends of England (Sheffield and Southampton), they went into the studio with producer Will Lang and engineer Tom Wright to record a successfully crowd-funded second offering A Tale of Sound and Fury.
The new album starts misleadingly gently with a soft guitar arpeggio introducing The Hemp Jig, while a feedback-like drone fades in until Alex’s melodic fiddle sets the tone and pace for most of the music that follows. On Nailed It – from accordion player Colin Nicholson’s jaunty verbal celebration of successes – a rhythmic grinding fiddle with sparse two-note pizzicato strings are joined by Ford’s spirited whistle, carrying undertones of African-like influences in layered woodwinds.
With its title taken from a chapter of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, The Fly and the Spiders is performed live as a single piece but appears here in three distinct parts, in a similar fashion to the novel being broken into a trilogy for the film series. The first part’s slowly plucked fiddle and slightly echoed whistle could be as much a suitable accompaniment to a 1970s children’s television programme as a spider’s legs negotiating its web. The second episode, a few tracks later, builds from a jig to a frenzied climax before ending abruptly, as a captured fly might cease its struggle in a spider’s sticky trap. The final section returns to the sparse backing of the first, while a melancholy recorder traces the spider’s return to its lair.
Although the rapid guitar and fiddle piece Dumbo was named after Alex’s car, it is easy to imagine it as an alternative soundtrack to a couple of scenes from the Disney film of the same name, especially where the young elephant is rejected by his peers and later takes flight on his enormous ears. The first of only two only vocals amongst the dozen tracks leads a fine interpretation of Gillian Welch’s gospel bluegrass song Rock of Ages, from her 1998 release Hell among the Yearlings. The backing here is provided by effective shimmering guitar chords and handclaps rather than the original’s banjo.
Elsewhere, the beauty of a pair of traditional Scottish tunes is displayed in Scotch Egg, a haunting arrangement of Damian O’Kane’s Sea Sick Dee-Dee Goes to Holyhead appears as simply Sea Sick Dee, and the traditional English song Van Diemen’s Land also gets a look in before the almost seven-minute The Queen Victoria rounds off the collection. Originally called ‘Hobildygloop’ after Alex’s middle piece, the track was renamed in honour of the Priddy pub’s generous support for the recording project. It’s a fitting title for a piece that sounds as if it could have been inspired by a typical evening in a welcoming establishment, from its relaxing first part, through the exuberant, boisterous middle and on to some impressive and exciting fiddle work as closing time is reached.
With A Tale of Sound and Fury The Drystones demonstrate a sophisticated musical maturity that is far beyond their ages, full of the electrifying energy of their debut and showing a growing confidence in their playing and singing. A thrilling, must-hear collection.
Review by: Roy Spencer
A Tale of Sound and Fury is out now.
The Drystones are playing plenty of festivals this year as well as their home turf at Priddy Folk Festival and Sidmouth Folk Week, Larmer Tree and more. Full details on their website here: