Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage – Awake
Sungrazing Records – 11 May 2018
Two years on from their critically adored duo debut, Before The Sun, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage return with an even more accomplished collection that, save for four numbers, are all self-penned. It opens with two such, Selkie Song, a simple setting of Sanders’ vocals and Chris Poole’s banjo as, horns making an appearance midway, she sings of a mythological seal-woman’s yearning to return to the sea. On a darker note, I Met A Man reworks the age-old story of a doomed romantic encounter between a woman and a green man (rather less poetically known as a foliate head), the yearning in the pure vocals complemented by Burke Carroll’s pedal steel and Savage’s intimate fingerpicked acoustic guitar.
Ben takes lead on the dreamily melodic love song A Thousand New Moons, the album’s poppiest folk moment with a soaring harmonised chorus and one on which he Illustrates his fine dobro playing, further showcased on the following acoustic fingerpicked instrumental, Every Night When The Sun Goes In which draws on the American folk side of their influences.
Mention should, of course, also be made of Sanders’ dulcimer work while the album’s instrumentation also includes Jon Thorne on double bass and percussionist Evan Carson with backing vocals variously courtesy of David Bentley, Gilmore & Roberts, Jess Morgan, and Suzie Ungerleider, better known as Oh Susannah. The latter pair feature on the title track, another Americana-shaded number, sung by Savage who switches between electric guitar and dobro.
Reaching, the longest track, closes the album with Hannah on lead vocals, a simple, spare backing that accentuates her pure and measured singing but, towards the end, bringing in a fuller sound with the arrival of Savage on drums as it gathers to a crescendo before fading into the ether on double bass.
Also sung by Hannah, the remaining original number is 7, the lyrics of which part borrow from the traditional children’s one for sorrow magpie nursery rhyme, pedal steel, double bass, horns and Carson’s subtle percussion weaving a languorously melancholic mood. If that sports some traditional fabrics, there are two numbers drawn directly from the weave, the first following on with the much-covered Reynardine, the duo taking turns on the verses, the dominant percussive acoustic guitar treatment giving way to a slower dulcimer-led ending.
This is followed in turn by a number from the American tradition, Ben singing lead and Hannah harmonising on the slow waltzing railway song Santa-Fe Trail with its yo ho crowd singalong refrain. The remaining two songs doff the cap to American folk legends, opening with deft fingerpicked guitar and, again, building towards the end, the sparsely arranged, mournfully sung five-minute One Grain of Sand is from Pete Seeger’s 1958 album of story songs for children, though neither this nor the original exactly fit his description of it as a lullaby.
The other is Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key, one of the ‘lost’ Woody Guthrie lyrics brought into the light by Billy Bragg and Wilco on their 1988 Mermaid Avenue album, which, given a softer tone than their delicate version with Hannah’s hushed vocals, shuffling drums, double bass, dobro and acoustic guitar caresses, is unquestionably a highlight on an album of standouts.
The album cover by psychedelic artist Alan Forbes depicts the tarot cards of the Hanged Man and the High Priestess as, respectively, a deer and a hare, while the booklet features Pamela Colman Smith’s designs for the major arcana of AE Waite’s tarot deck. To extend the imagery, the duo and the album are perhaps best depicted as The World, the card that symbolises a transition to a new phase, of completeness and a perfect union with the One Power of the universe, and of the happiness gained by sharing what we have accomplished. Seems a reasonable reading.
Order Awake here: https://www.hannahbenmusic.com/store
They are on tour now, visit their website for full details: https://www.hannahbenmusic.com/