Thom Ashworth – Hollow
Self-Released – Out Now
I do not very often write about solo male singers, though I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because I choose, maybe subconsciously, female singers, as I tend to like the higher registers and harmonies. However, this time I have gone for a relatively new chap on the scene, Thom Ashworth. The last time I came across a new male singer was Nick Hart and his album gets at least one airing a week on the home front. Thom Ashworth’s Hollow will be getting the same treatment.
Hollow is Thom’s second EP release after Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture (January 2017). Here are four tracks of stripped-back folk with a clarity and emotion that reminds me partly of Billy Bragg, partly of the aforementioned Nick Hart and partly of Chris Wood. This has something to do with the accent (to a greater or lesser degree) but primarily is down to the emotional content. There is something about a voice, and a bit of subservient instrumentation designed to make the voice sound even more up front, that transmits more than the mere words, something that all four of these singers have in common.
This EP has two traditional songs and two written by Thom. The first track is High Germany, using words similar to those in Martin Carthy’s version of over fifty years ago (!) but the presentation is totally different. Marching and increasingly menacing drums build the tension of the story and echo the combative background to the song. Work Life Out To Keep Life In, is another version of a Martin Carthy recording and another battle but this time about keeping the wolf from the door.
The middle two are equally sharp. Hollow is a song of lament and reflection. An older man looks back at his youth, the decisions he had made and the impact these had on his children, all in the context of having to ‘kneel to pay the rent’.
Crispin’s Day returns to the subject of the first song and conjures images of warfare. Here, ‘each man takes the moment squarely on the jaw’ though the futility and the barbarisms shows through in colour and texture as much as in words. Taking lines from TS Eliot’s Burnt Norton and having allusion to Agincourt (fought on St Crispin’s Day), this is a powerful piece.
All tracks have the feel of combat, the sense of political comment and a commentary on the ills of society brought up to date. This is a somewhat refreshing return to the political force behind the music of the folk and one that has not been heard in any amount since those early days of the folk revival in the middle of the last century. It is quite easy to get carried away with songs of love – lost, found, unrequited – but, returning to the three chaps mentioned at the start, there are not enough that provide comment on life in the raw. Perhaps this is changing and perhaps Thom Ashworth is in the vanguard of a new generation of protest singers.
Back to the music itself. I want to know when Thom is going to put out an album. An EP is quite short but I suppose there is that old entertainment adage: ‘leave ‘em wanting more”. But, come on. Hollow is one of those rare occasions when, having heard it for the first time, you want to listen to again and again.
Photo Credit: Jaime Ashworth