The name alone should give good indication that the Stourbridge-based outfit trade in traditional English folk music. Fronted by pure-voiced songwriter Kim Lowings, who plays Appalachian mountain dulcimer and piano, her band comprising Andrew Lowings on bouzouki and guitar, Dave Sutherland on bass and Tim Rogers on cajon and drums, they’ve been going for around four years and this is their sophomore album, the follow up to 2012 debut This Life. Again, it’s a story-telling mixture of traditional numbers and self-penned material of a similar vein, an approach pretty much summed up by the title, which comes from the Ancient Greek philosophy about learning from the past, a theme underscored by the cover photo of her two Great Aunts during the Coronation of George VI
It’s an original tune that opens proceedings, the slow waltzing Wood Wife (based on a seductive forest creature found in Scandinavian and German folklore). Unfurling the pride that comes before a fall (and skin deep beauty for good measure), it’s a tale about a beautiful but self-serving tree-dwelling woman who wallowed in the enrapt attention her storytelling brought. Her arrogance grows until she is finally brought crashing to the ground to reveal her true self – “Inside they could see she was hollow and twisted, A demon, her beauty no more”.
Featuring Leon Gormley on cittern, I’m Still Here has its roots in Lowings quitting Asda to become a fulltime musician but is, more universally, about breaking free of the 9-5 chains and kowtowing to the boss and following your dreams rather than having to one day look back on chances lost.
Taking the album title to heart, John is a spoken recording of her grandfather recalling a boat trip during a 1991 visit to Yugoslavia during which the captain took up an accordion, broke open the slivovitz and had the boat going round in circles while they sang, danced and drank, until John’s sister untied the tiller and steered it back to shore. All of which serves as prelude to the poppy folk Maggie’s Song which recasts the event in fictional form, along with a traditional ‘one for the…’.styled chorus.
Completing the first run of Lowings’ compositions, Lullaby is what it says on the tin, a simple goodnight love song (it even has a lu-lay-lu-lay-lu-lay-la) featuring just her voice and electric piano.
The first of the traditional numbers comes with her crystal clean arrangement of Dark Eyed Sailor, which not only features some fine violin work by Anna-Margarita Teodorova Oprenova, but also backing vocals from Ange Hardy. Next up is Alfrick, a sprightly instrumental fiddle reel written by Andrew and named for the village reputed to be most haunted in Worcestershire. Then it’s back to Kim in darker-toned voice for Willow, another rhythmically uptempo number with circling fingerpicked guitar and snare about not letting your pride get in the way of asking for help.
The last four numbers alternate between originals and traditional, first being an arrangement of The Blacksmith’s tale of a deceitful lover, nimbly accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. In turn, comes the brooding vignette Monsoon, the first real showcase of her dulcimer skills, complemented by Oprenova’s violin and Dave Draper on electric guitar to evoke the sense of rain and oppressive heat.
The rain continues to pour as Regrets returns Lowings to Asda’s and, again accompanied by Oprenova with Hardy on harmonies, the poignant story of her encounter with an old man whose wife of 50 years had recently died and how it made her think of the life ahead of her.
Finally, the album ends with another traditional outing, Bonny Labouring Boy, Sutherland’s bass and Rogers’ clopping percussion ably proving their worth as Oprenova laces everything with some bowed flourishes. As the torch passes from one generation to the next, it’s reassuring to know that, with the likes of Lowings, British folk music continues to remain in very good hands.
Review by: Mike Davies