A couple of former UN clerical officers from Vermont, in their spectacles and sensible clothes husband and wife duo Ken Anderson and Rebecca Hall look like they might have stepped out of some ’60s coffee house and, indeed, their music, a bringing together of English and American folk traditions, also has a retro feel.
Further West is Hungrytown‘s third album, and is anchored around a central theme of travel or journeys, often seeking but not necessarily finding a better life. All but two of the tracks are written or co-written by Hall. Penned by and featuring cellist Suzanne Mueller, Ramparts and Bridges is a madrigal-like number about the way music can connect or prove a barrier between people and which references Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven. The other, and a fulcrum upon which the album’s thematic concerns hinge, is Woody Guthrie’s migration lament Pastures of Plenty, it’s a capella arrangement nodding to the song’s roots in the traditional British folk tune, Pretty Polly.
There’s one other number for which Hall does not provide the lyrics, fellow Vermont songwriter Gene Morrison doing the honours for the uptempo Don’t Cross That Mountain which, with twangy guitar and reverb vocals, recounts the true story of the Blake family’s tragic 1821 attempt to take the Kelly Stand Trail across the Green Mountains from Salem to Vermont, freezing to death in the attempt.
Hall’s opening number, the lullaby waltzing Further West, featuring multi-instrumentalist Anderson on accordion and Lissa Schneckenburger on violin, gets the wagon rolling down the album’s highway, the next stop being the clawhammer banjo and fiddle driven, Celtic shaded Hard Way to Learn, a song about a runaway young mother coming to regret her decision, given a new arrangement to reflect what had been intended when Hall first recorded it back in 1999. Bitter lessons learned also underpin the simple acoustic guitar accompanied Sometime where she reflects on words spoken in haste.
Again harking to their British folk influences, Don’t You Let Me Down marries Celtic and Appalachian, the title tag ending to each chorus apparently conceived after playing at the Dunfermline Folk Club.
Backdropped by cello and banjo, the swayingly resigned Day For Night reflects on the struggles to survive a lengthy losing streak and serves as an American dream run up to the Guthrie cover. Its talk of night driving is picked up on the childlike imagery of Highway Song with its shimmering guitar chimes and organ and the equally dreamy Static where the crackle on the radio serves as a metaphor for losing connection.
The album closes on two more night songs, the fingerpicked traditional folk ballad styled Eastward Forests, Westward Hills and, opening with an a cappella snatch of A Child’s Bedtime Prayer, the organ and cello backed, ethereal Troubles In Between concluding on a pessimistic note that while scarecrows may chase the birds away, they will return “and from your hair will make a nest.”
Not, perhaps, the most optimistic of albums, but most certainly one that gets into your pores.
Review by: Mike Davies
European Release Date – July 20, 2015 via Listen Here! Records
UK Tour Dates
04 – Village Pump Folk Club, Trowbridge, Wiltshire
10 – Uxbridge Folk Club, Uxbridge RNA, Hillingdon, Middx
14 – Boston Folk Club, The Eagle, Boston, Lincs
16 – Baldock & Letchworth Folk Club, Baldock, Hertfordshire
18 – Valley folk club The Ivy Bush Hotel, Pontardawe, Wales
20 – Bothy Folk Club, Southport, Merseyside
21 – Folk at the Prospect, Runcorn, Cheshire
22 – Star Folk Club, The Admiral, Glasgow, Scotland
30 – Irvine Folk Club, Vineburgh Community Centre, Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland
03 – Woodend Gallery, , Scarborough, N. Yorkshire
06 – Cramlington Folk Club, The Clef & Cask, Dewley, Cramlington, Northumberland
09 – Seaford Folk Club, Legion House, Seaford, East Sussex