Jenn & Laura-Beth: Bound
JBLB Records – 2017
Jenn Butterworth (guitar, vocals) and Laura-Beth Salter (mandolin, vocals) have been performing together for some years, a fact that’s plain from first to last on Bound, an album that showcases their perfectly blended voices and tasteful and harmonious arrangements of the guitar and mandolin. Their mastery of their instruments is evident but subtly displayed in this wide-ranging collection of songs and tunes. The album’s liner notes explicitly mention the dual meaning of the title, with a nod to these two being bound together musically. Jenn Butterworth is one of Scotland’s foremost female guitarists and has toured extensively with the award-winning Anna Massie Band. She’s an in-demand accompanist and also teaches on the Traditional Music course at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Recently Butterworth has also been part of the Songs of Separation collective which has garnered huge praise over the last year, winning the album of the year gong at the 2017 BBC Radio Two Folk Awards.
Laura-Beth Salter was brought up in Lincolnshire, influenced by the American old-time and bluegrass music that her parents played. After a Traditional Music degree in Newcastle, she became heavily involved in the folk scene, a founding member of the all-female band The Shee as well as collaborating with Shooglenifty and Dougie MacLean among others.
This duo release caught my attention after I heard Butterworth & Salter’s version of The Great Divide, an Americana/folk favourite, and Bound is a captivating mix of influences from both sides of the Atlantic. As well as superlative musicianship it showcases strong songwriting (tune-writing) chops from both women, among a series of fresh-sounding interpretations of classics from songwriters including Jean Ritchie, Boo Hewerdine and Mindy Smith. The album starts with a rhythmic scratching on the mandolin, building up to the swinging feel of the opening track Let the Sun Shine Down on Me. It’s a cracking version of this Jean Ritchie song with glorious lead vocals from Butterworth, intercut with Salter’s original mandolin tune (Than Hall’s) and is a first-rate blend of Scottish folk and acoustic Americana. It’s also an almost-title track with Butterworth belting out the refrain “bound for glory” in the lyrics. Shine is a fresh and breezy mandolin & guitar duet with Laura-Beth’s mandolin soaring above the lovely guitar picking which underpins this mostly instrumental track.
Next up is a complete change of tone with the faintly menacing feel of The Braver One, a more political statement extolling non-violence. While I applaud the sentiment, this song wasn’t one of my favourites, and the tone jarred a little for me among the rest of the collection. Wings on My Heels brings another change of pace – a slow waltz with Butterworth’s rich vocals front and centre and tasteful guitar backup, it’s a wistfully beautiful rendition of a Boo Hewerdine song with some tasty harmonies and a delicate mandolin solo.
A sprightly set of tunes kicks off with Butterworth’s original 1,2,3,4 which puts fine flat-picking front and centre, with Salter’s rhythmic chopping and runs providing the perfect counterpoint. It then segues effortlessly into Joseph Salter’s (written by Laura-Beth) another catchy tune, and the whole set has some of the flavours of (Nickel Creek) guitarist Sean Watkins’ fine solo instrumentals – tasteful picking and beautiful arrangements. It’s followed by Salter taking up lead vocal duties on The Great Divide, delivering a sparse and redolent rendition of a classic song by long departed Californian songwriter Kate Wolf, with subtle guitar and mandolin accompaniment and soft harmonies on the chorus.
The duo shifts gear again for the next toe-tapping set of tunes, starting with the Scottish flavour of Apple at the Crossroads (written by Breabach piper Calum MacCrimmon) and moving into the traditional tune Elzwick’s Farewell, which sounds very American in style to my ears. Bert Jansch’s If I Said I Had a Lover seems to be over almost before it’s begun, a quickfire 2 minutes 50 seconds propelled along by driving guitar that reminds me of the talented Kris Drever. This one is also paired with another Butterworth tune, The Belle of the Ball. The Dillards classic There Is A Time gets a slow, thoughtful treatment here, Laura-Beth’s expressive lead vocal complemented by some gorgeous harmonies. I do love great harmony singing, and these gals are just superb! There’s time for another top notch set of tunes showcasing the duo’s virtuosity, the decidedly Swedish feel of Hasse’s A (by Väsen’s Mikael Marin) matched with 32 Bars of Filth written by Shooglenifty’s Luke Plumb and driven along by dynamic guitar and gymnastic mandolin. Bound closes with a masterful version of Come to Jesus, written by American folk/country singer-songwriter Mindy Smith. Funnily enough, Smith is another artist whose debut album I bought many years ago (thanks to this very song), and which I hadn’t heard in years until recently. It’s a superbly crafted song and Butterworth & Salter’s stripped down rendition is a fitting conclusion to a recording of consistently high quality. I look forward to hearing a lot more from Jenn and Laura-Beth.
Jenn & Laura-Beth Tour Dates
2nd June 2017: The Fullerton, Lochside Road, Castle Douglas (part of Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival)
14th June 2017: The Willows Folk Club, Kirkham, Lancs
7-9th July 2017: Priddy Folk Festival
23rd July 2017: Underneath the Stars, Cannon Hall Farm, Barnsley (as part of the Kinnaris Quintet)
9-10th August 2017: Sidmouth Folk Week
25th August 2017: The Meeting Place, Stonelaw Church, Rutherglen
Bound is Out Now and available via Bandcamp