Naomi Bedford & Paul Simmonds – Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me
Dusty Willow Records – 3 November 2017
Naomi Bedford has been a Folk Radio UK favourite for ten years now, producing ever more fascinating solo and collaborative music. Working with her partner Paul Simmonds (The Men They Couldn’t Hang), Tales from the Weeping Willow, 2011, shed new light on a fascinating collection of dark, traditional song; and in 2014 they celebrated the art of the protest song with A History of Insolence. A deep love of folk, roots and country music shines through in every aspect of Naomi and Paul’s work; and with the release, on November 3rd, of Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me they continue that mission.
A laconic, playful piano opens the album with We’ve Hardly Started Yet. For this feel-good celebration of mutual love, Naomi is joined by long-time collaborator Justin Currie (Del Amitri) in a sparkling duet where Justin’s harmonies are the ideal fit for Naomi’s enchanting vocal. It’s the perfect opener, and the rest of the album delivers on the promise of that title.
The creative connection with Justin Currie goes right back to A History of Insolence, and Justin has also brought one of his own songs to the album. Little Stranger is a beautifully balanced vocal harmony duet, led by piano and beautifully adorned by Lennie Harvey‘s dobro. The song hints at the more melancholy aspects of Namoi’s music, and this leaning towards the darkness comes to the fore when Naomi’s arrangement takes The Cruel Mother on a transatlantic journey. In one of the several tracks on the album produced by Ben Walker, Ben’s guitar provides the perfect backdrop to Naomi’s plaintive vocal and Justin’s ghostly whisper. It leaves you thinking that if Joni Mitchell had decided to approach an English murder ballad with Tim Buckley and Lee Underwood for company, it might have sounded almost as good as this; almost.
Ben also contributes some old-timey banjo and bass, as the easygoing country-style rhythm of the opening is reflected in Misty; a gently rolling travelogue that features another vocal duet from Paul and Naomi. The song is augmented by layers of Ellie Wyatt‘s dreamy fiddle and the very finest vocal harmonies from Xan Tyler, who’ll be supporting Naomi and Paul for the album’s Scottish album launch (details below). The same roots are showing in Naomi’s acerbic I Hate You, a lyrically splendid song full of righteous venom. Along with its beautifully constructed vocal harmonies; the light tropical guitar from another distinguished guest, Andy Summers (The Police), is blended perfectly with Richard Leo‘s 12-string. You couldn’t expect this socially outspoken duo to pull their punches for long, and in the same spirit Paul’s Ballad Of A Self Made Man seems to take a swipe at either the bloated pride of corporate greed, or religion (or probably both), in a song that draws you in to every single perfectly chosen word. Haunted by David Rothon‘s pedal steel guitar and Bruce Webb‘s harmonica, any song that delivers a line like ‘Cold as a pole, hotter than a machine gun‘ commands attention.
The malevolence couldn’t be more pronounced, though, than in the Gothic gloom of Young Parson Richards. Adapted by Naomi from a poem by Percy Shelley, the song has the heart and soul of a spiritual; with layers of soul-stirring backing vocal from Donna Edmead, drama from guitar and piano, and an astounding vocal performance from Naomi that stirs with a beseeching cry of pain. With Gerry Diver‘s production, the whole song is almost a dream sequence, especially when a primal wail of violin and cello add to the drama.
“Alas it was sold that trinket of gold
Which my ruiner gave to me
All the winter nights on my bosom as cold
It lay as his heart might be”
Redolent with blues, Donna’s backing vocal is also pitched perfectly to add an edge to Naomi’s howling lead for The Still Want You Blues, with Andy Summers making a second appearance on slide guitar.
There’s still no shortage of light on this magnificent album, though. 7 Days of Nothing is a barroom ballad of inner strength with Noami, Paul and Xan providing an uplifting chorus of voices. Ramshackle House is a truly delightful and endearing jug band celebration of home, its contents, music, memories and, of course, its people (with an equally uplifting video). Without Joy stands out from the rest of the album with its more fundamental arrangement. Helena Joy Ashworth‘s piano and Rhys Lovell‘s bass are the only accompaniment for Naomi’s vocal in this beautiful, bittersweet tribute to her late mother.
“No fruit without bloom
No blossom on vine,
no touch no caress and no kiss
Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me has the tagline ‘concerning love, madness & obsession‘. All three are deployed, in abundance; but love wins through, as Better Than The Best follows Without Joy to close the album. With guitars from Paul and Ben, it’s another perfectly balanced vocal duet from Paul and Naomi, for one of the happiest love songs you’ll ever hear.
It’s some time before the listener realises just how carefully structured this album really is. Despite the raw edge and the breezy nature of its brighter songs; there’s a deceptive intricacy to the production that belies its casual appearance. There are individual performances that truly shine, but never in isolation. It’s the collective light that dazzles. Enthralling vocal arrangements with dramatic, blithe or soul-stirring accompaniment; songwriting that gladdens the heart, lifts a veil or draws a dark curtain. Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me sees Naomi Bedford & Paul Simmonds draw on the influences and inspirations of their first two remarkable albums to create something entirely new, and simply superb.
21.10 – Toft House, Little Theatre Club, Middlesborough (support from Joe Solo)
22.10 – Musicport festival Whitby, Whitby Pavilion, Whitby, Yorkshire
25.10 – Scotland CD Launch, The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
26.10 – Fulford Arms, York (support from Boss Caine)
02.11 – London album launch, Troubadour, London
More live dates here: http://www.naomibedford.com/naomi-bedford-gigs-and-performances.html