Said The Maiden – Here’s A Health
Maiden Records – Out now
Here’s A Health is the second album from Said The Maiden, a trio comprising Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth and Kathy Pilkington. Their debut album, A Curious Tale, garnered some good reviews and I cannot help feeling that this new one will do lots better.
I like the simplicity, the clarity and the humour of Here’s A Health and these three add a lot to the album. The simplicity comes from the arrangements. There is nothing fussy or overworked about the production and there is an interesting effect with many of the songs that you feel you are only feet away from them – how that works I don’t know, unless it is in my for imagination!
The three voices are invariably marked out to the left, centre and right. Once or twice the use of this approach takes me by surprise, a bit like when stereo became easily available and guitars slid from one side to the room to the other. Nowadays there seems to be more effort put into filling the whole aural space but here Said The Maiden use this differentiation to emphasise the individual voices, giving a clean clear sound.
The thing that really attracts me to this album – besides the voices, the harmonies, the clarity etc – is the underlying humour. It varies from a no-nonsense approach about the trials of Polly who stows away in order to be with her lover yet they are found in bed together with the subsequent penalty paid by the girl (Polly Can You Swim?). Not an inch of sisterhood support here!
This is followed by the extremely black Black Annis, a woman who lives in a cave on the outskirts of Leicester and spends her time catching children, sucking them dry of their blood, eating their flesh and then using their skins for her skirts. The song is in the middle of the album and by the time I got here I was considering the sense of nicety, the feeling of genteelness evoked by the band, even though some of the preceding songs had their murderous bits as many folk songs do. But this made me smile. I had been lulled into a comfortable situation and then hot on the heels of no sympathy for Polly comes a simple tale of a bogey-woman. Apparently, the site of the cave where Black Annis is supposed to have lived is now a housing estate so I suppose the children of Leicester may rest easy now – or can they?
Said The Maiden may sound clear and perhaps at times sweet (Tom Paxton’s Jennifer’s Rabbit) but there is definitely a more gory side to them. The third in this triumvirate of dark dark tales is the mournful In The Pines. This is a story of a woman taking to the woods whilst the head of her husband has been found in the wheel of the car – no body to be seen.
Having done with the macabre, something struck me about this album and its focus on women. The Maid of the Mill is about a real young woman, who was so fair that the fame brought upon her and her family by the song caused her to recede from the limelight; Sweet William’s Ghost, is a well-known story about a woman longing to be with her dead husband; Take The Night is about a woman who takes to highway robbery, and dies because of it. A subtle and refreshing view of a set of songs that take women as the central theme, whether heroine or not and perhaps a not coincidental timely reminder of the role played by women in folk song and history.
The final song on the album (except for the Epilogue, bookending the Preamble at the start) is The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood. Brought to the attention of many of us old enough to recall by Sandy Denny some 50 years ago (Is it really that long ago?) Said The Maiden were requested to learn this song for performance by Dave Swarbrick. They supported Swarb on his 2015 solo UK tour and we have to be grateful to him for this. The song is sung a capella and the sound is just glorious. The stereo split really gives us the three voices, separately and as one, and the sound cannot be ignored – everything stops for this track.
Here’s A Health is an album with many aspects and several assets. The choice of song is good, the underlying humour appeals to me and the production really brings out the strengths of their clear voices and close harmonies. When you listen to it either use good headphones or, and I recommend this, through loud speakers. I could say more but I’m going to listen to Quiet Joys of Brotherhood again.
Order it here: http://www.saidthemaiden.co.uk/
Photo Credit: Ela Walenda