Jez Hellard & Djukella Orchestra – D’rect from The Shire
Self-Released – 1 November 2017
Based in Northamptonshire, the band name taken from the Yugoslavian for mongrel, reflecting the hybrid mixture of styles they play, with anything from tango to gigs Jez Hellard’s been making a name for himself with a combination of his socially and politically relevant songs and the ability to pack the folk dance floor.
Given their growing live reputation and following, this is, appropriately enough, a live recording, captured over two consecutive nights at The Sofa Sessions and his home base in King’s Cliffe.
There are a couple of ballads here, both from the Heavy Wood album, Bing Lyle’s The Water Song and a the six-minute Pass It Along with Hellard’s slightly rusty voice and the violin capturing the emotional heft in Scott Cook’s lyrics about what we hand down to the next generation, whether that’s a guitar or the country in which we live.
Otherwise, save for Atlas Tango, a moody seven-minute instrumental from their debut studio album, Blood & Honey, showcasing Hellard’s harmonica and Nye Parsons on double bass, this is all rousing up-tempo stuff. The band, which also features Alastair Caplin and James Gavin on violins, Dominic Henderson on uillean pipes and whistles and Tommie Black-Roff on accordion, serve up familiar material alongside a couple of previously unrecorded numbers.
These bookend the album, kicking off with, the choppy folk calypso feel of Canned Goods, Greg Brown’s 80s celebration of childhood memories of granma’s homegrown, homemade preserves (hence the sleeve’s jam jars photo) with its whistle and fiddle solo and Hellard sounding rather like Rory Mcleod. And, as coincidence would have it, it’s one of McLeod’s that ends things with Hellard taking the harmonica spotlight for an instrumental version of A Kind of Loneliness.
In-between, Heavy Wood provides three further numbers. The first in an instrumental medley of three lively traditional tunes, Humours of Ballyloughlin/Cliffs of Moher/Farwell to Erin. Caplin and Gavin’s fiddles blazing way. This is directly followed by a six-minute version of Borders by Billy Rowan aka The Undercover Hippy, a choppy reggae rhythm protest against isolationism in response to the refugee crisis, here featuring a uillean pipes solo from Henderson.
The third is another instrumental medley, opening with mournful fiddle tune Not Safe With A Razor and proceeding through Phil Cunningham’s more frisky Wing Commander Donald Mackenzie’s Reel and concluding with everyone going bananas for Highlander’s Farewell.
Of the remaining two tracks, one is also taken from their debut, a feistier and extended take on Nancy Kerr’s Songbirds, here arranged to include some urgent fiddle work, while the other, Real Revolution, a Scott Cook song call for tolerance and compassion, is revisited from their previous live album Live On The Ley with the same Marley meets Latin Quarter choppy rhythm.
As with most live albums, this is primarily for the already converted who’ve experienced them in the flesh, but if you haven’t then give it a go and you’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for the gig lists.
For live dates, visit: http://www.jezhellard.com