Ange Hardy – Bring Back Home
Story Records – 28 November 2017
With a work ethic that would make the most ardent Calvinist look like a slacker, snuggled inside an exquisite cover design by Michael Cook, Bring Back Home is Ange Hardy’s sixth studio album. She continues her collaboration with Lukas Drinkwater who provides bass and guitar here alongside contributions from percussionist Evan Carson, new arrival cellist Lee Cuff and a Lament of the Black Sheep reunion with Alex Cumming on accordion and Jon Dyer on flute and whistle, plus folk legend fiddler Peter Knight. Likewise, this is, as ever, steeped in the folk tradition albeit all bar two being wholly original material. That it contains a drowned sailor lover, a murder and someone called Johnny firmly underlines her credentials in the canon.
It kicks off with Sisters Three, one with a good heart, one with an evil heart and one with no heart at all, a metaphorical folk tale about jealousy, child abandonment, fratricide, magical oaks and the origin of good and evil set to a frisky, fiddle-driven tune and lively chorus and unfolding in a familiar Hardy landscape of willow trees, streams and dense woodlands with massive root structures. All neatly wrapped up in four minutes.
Sung a capella with hummed accompaniment, the affecting Once I Was A Rose, a reminder to make time for those you love, was inspired her friendship with an elderly woman, once an artist, who, as she grew too old to live on her own was put in an assisted care home, the visits by her children gradually becoming less frequent while the boredom grew more overwhelming.
Built around fingerpicked acoustic guitar with cymbal flourishes and a solo from Cumming, the title track introduces the album’s first Johnny, one of the twenty-four fishermen who set out to sea never to return, leaving his lover lamenting on the shore.
Hardy’s albums frequently tip the hat to her hometown of Watchet, and so it is here with St Decuman. Arranged in a circling melody with fiddle and harp, the title’s a reference to the local church, the graveyard of which allegedly contains the unmarked grave of the Welsh hermit and subsequent titular saint who, as legend has it sailed to Watchet on his cloak and wounded up being decapitated by some grumpy Dane, only to glue it back on again with water from the holy well.
On her debut album, Barefoot Folk, Mother Willow Tree told of a hunter transformed into a hare by a willow tree, now comes the sequel, The Hunter, The Prey, in which, partly sung in a sort of conspiratorial whisper, underpinned by an hypnotic percussive rhythm with suitably spooked fiddle and whistles, he finds himself hunted and killed by his own son, serving up a moral lesson about our children being what we make them.
The mood lightens with Summer’s Day/Little Wilscombe, a simple flute-flavoured ditty about the joys of the countryside in May that has a hint of the Morris about it, the second half a lively fiddle, hand drum and accordion reel.
We remain in May for the first of the two traditional numbers and another Johnny whose ship’s wrecked at sea, Hardy providing whistle on her stately setting of Claudy Banks, apparently a clip of the original 2013 home demo being her first national radio play.
We’re back to willows and water for Little Benny Sing Well, Knight both giving it some gypsy fiddle drama and duetting on a vaguely medieval sounding tune about patience and perseverance, relating how, after his father’s killed in the war, Benny spends twenty years sitting by the river competing the task dad gave him of building a bridge by throwing stones.
The second traditional number is another from the Roud collection, Hardy accompanying herself on harp for a simple, uncluttered and vocally pure version of Waters of Tyne and its lament of lovers separated by the river.
Next up, the name Johnny makes its third appearance, albeit here truncated to Husband John. The obligatory murder ballad, this one about a young maid who kills her employer’s adulterous wife, buries the body, tells him she’s run off and becomes his second bride, brightly arranged for metronomic percussion, fingerpicked guitar, flute, whistle and cello.
The final stretch gets underway on a personal note with A Girl Like Her, etched on acoustic guitar with warm cello accompaniment, a gorgeous joy-filled song for her daughter and, by extension an insightful observation on those who suffer from Asperger’s and ADHD that looks at things from a positive perspective as she sings how “She’ll rise up singing in the morning sun, seize the day with a smile and a song”, ending with an unaccompanied reading of the chorus that has an almost hymnal quality.
Social commentary rears its head with the festive setting and circular guitar pattern of What May You Do For The JAM? a song inspired by both her panic over preparing for Christmas and a comment by Theresa May on the Jeremy Vine show about families who are “just about managing”. With its chorus about the those living on “a handful of hand downs and minimum wage” and “the should be retirees, born the wrong year”, it’s a song about holding on to dignity and putting on a brave face for the children, and a call to remember the fight for equality, security, love and respect when it comes to doing what is right with your vote.
It’s thematically linked to the penultimate fingerpicked track, Chase The Devil Down, a musical nod perhaps to the American-influenced late 60s folk scene and names like Rambling Jack Elliot, Ian Campbell and Dave Van Ronk and a chorus friendly song about not giving in to self-doubt and bitterness and to “bring back home a heart of blood and not of stone.”
It ends with another simply structured acoustic guitar and cello number, the slow waltzing What It Is. In the booklet she wryly describes it as her “I didn’t get a folk award nomination again and it nearly destroyed me” song, but, behind the joke, there’s a serious point about the moment she realised that, in chasing awards, she’d lost sight of the music; fixated on the goal, she’d become blinded to the journey. Its carpe diem sentiment about enjoying life while it’s here and that “seldom will your time be well spent on the past” echoes throughout the album, which was about getting back to where she started, the title surely a nod to Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home. It’s beautifully summed up in the heart-touching chorus, echoing Lennon and McCartney in its words of wisdom to “let it be what it is for the grieving is more than the time that you have and coming is more for the leaving. It is more to have love than to have.” She may say that she felt she’d lost her way, but her footing has never been less than firm. Awards and nominations are great, but quality should never be judged by the trophies on the shelf. This is yet further testament that she’s a shining beacon illuminating the byways of traditional folk for today’s landscape, you should be beating a path to its door. Welcome home Ange, this is domestic bliss.
For details of Ange’s upcoming tour dates visit: https://www.angehardy.com/gigs