Rosie Hood – The Beautiful & The Actual
Rootbeat Records – 2017
It’s been 6 years since Rosie Hood released her 5 track eponymous CD, during which time, amongst other things, she was awarded a BBC Performing Arts Fellowship to work with the English Folk Dance and Song Society in 2015, nominated for the Horizon Award in 2016 at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and performed as one-third of The Dovetail Trio. The release, therefore, of The Beautiful & The Actual, her debut full-length album, is long overdue.
A native of Wiltshire, and steeped from an early age in traditional music and folk songs, this solo release takes its name from the Introduction to Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, written in 1923 by Alfred Williams, a prolific collector of songs from that region prior to the outbreak of the First World War, eight of which are included here. As to what to expect, Rosie herself notes that within this set “There’s life, and death, love and betrayal, beautiful melodies and hauntingly sad lyrics.”
It is evident that there are no first-album nerves here, each track displaying a control and confidence, a voice that is strong, pure and never faltering. Where there is musical accompaniment it tends to be sparse, but always well-judged, complementing the vocal talents of this accomplished singer and allowing the stories to be told.
The opening track, the intense Lover’s Ghost, a variation on Holland Handkerchief is one of the aforementioned eight songs from Williams’s collection, and whilst the lyrics presented here remain faithful to the original, Rosie is not afraid to rewrite the lyrics of traditional songs, namely on William’s Sweetheart, Red Herring and Cruel Mother tracks. By also composing the melodies on these two latter songs, together with Baker’s Oven and Little Blind Child, credence is given to her claim that by so doing it helps the songs become her own.
Further evidence of her developing skills as a songwriter is apparent in the two self-penned songs on the album. Dorothy Lawrence, the story of a female reporter who disguised herself as a man during the First World War and was court-martialled and treated as a spy, and Adrift Adrift, a haunting tale written after reading of “ghost ships” of refugees sailing across the Mediterranean Sea. It is a testament to her creative ability that both songs succeed completely in sounding as if coming from the rich traditional heritage that she so obviously admires. Indeed, anachronism apart in the case of Adrift Adrift, one could imagine that they both came from the Williams Collection, such is the ease with which they sit within the compass of the album.
Rosie is joined on two tracks of this recording by her songwriting mentor, and Folk Singer of the Year Nominee, Emily Portman. With A Furlong of Flight, lamenting a 11th Century monk’s unrealised dreams, and Cruel Mother, a harrowing tale of infanticide sung a capella, both delivered with extraordinary clarity, it is obvious why both singers have received such plaudits and accolades.
A further collaboration, on Lord Lovel, with a melody from Peter Bellamy’s version of the song, sees Rosie sing in classical duo harmony style with Folk Award winner Jefferson Hamer, whilst a version of John Archbold’s poignant Hills of Kandahar reminds us that words and music can sometimes be as powerful as an image.
It would be perverse, not to praise the seamless way in which the co-production, by Tom A. Wright and Rosie, ensures that the sparse accompaniments mentioned above allow each track to breathe. String arrangements by the Barber Sisters, on three tracks, together with Ollie King’s sensitive melodeon playing on three more, along with the presence of the excellent Emma Smith and her double bass on a goodly proportion of the album, ensuring that the songs soar rather than glide.
While collecting his songs, Alfred Williams was often told: “Only fools and fiddlers learn old songs.” Thank goodness there were people like him to doubt the naysayers, and that there continue to be generations of new “folk youngsters” to carry on, and develop the tradition.
A debut album of pure delight.
Rosie Hood Tour Dates
20 September – Christ Church, Vittoria, Ontario, Canada
21 September – Folk @ The Cafe, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
23 September – Owen Sound House Concert, Ontario, Canada
24 September – Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club, London, Ontario, Canada
30 September – Rosemount Hall, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
1 October – Another Bloody Folk Club, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
15 October – Hartlepool Folk Festival
19 October – English Folk expo
21 October – North Dorset Folk Festival
4 December – Green Note, London
Photo Credit: Louise Bichan