Hannah James & The JigDoll Ensemble– The Woman And Her Words: Album Review

Release Date: 4th October 2019

Label: JigDoll Records

Formats: CD, DL

A leading light of English percussive dance – check the twitter handle, Clogbox – Hannah James and her Jigdoll ensemble are proving to be an innovative and creative force whilst extolling the wonders of getting older.

The original Jigdoll project in 2016 combined music and dance (if that’s not putting too simple a spin on things) and saw Hannah James tossed into the spotlight as she debuted her unique show, winning most of the plaudits, at the 2017 Manchester Folk Festival.

The current incarnation finds Hannah declaring her feelings about being “a European” and heading off to Hungary to record with Kate Young, Martu Tarn, Toby Kuhn and perhaps most significantly, percussionist Andreas Des in a multi-national line up that gives The Woman And Her Words a genuinely cross-cultural and exotic feel.

Hannah James

When she talks about “my music has always started with my feet” it’s no surprise that The Woman And Her Words has a strong percussive theme running through. Not for the first time, adding a touch of drums, inventive rhythms and beats lifts a song beyond the run of the mill folk song. It’s most evident early on with the percussive rush that drives Dayspring. A highlight of the album, it’s not too impossible to imagine this as a track you could hear Robert Plant singing on (and possibly even his pal Jimmy leaning back and stroking a few chords out  – Hannah James as the new Led Zeppelin??).

While the beginning of What The Hell Was That might sound like it’s about to develop into the sort of chattering vocal piece Hannah delivers with Lady Maisery and occasional musical partner Tuulikki Bartosik, it sees a mid-song break which is made for a clog workout. Tuulikki however,  does get a namecheck in a re-recording of Tuulikki’s Tune

However, the album centrepiece must be the ten minute title track whose epic tale weaves and winds around gender roles and ‘toxic masculinity’ and by the time we arrive at Shields Time, packed with a jaunty tune and accompanied by an allsorts mix of body percussion, rhythms and dancing vocal lines, you may be asking, as has Alan James, what the hell was that!? Inventive, imaginative and with a sharp eye for observation and comment on contemporary issues and the trials and tribulations of everyday life. 

We’ve recently encountered a rush of groundbreaking work in the area broadly termed ‘folk music’. While the likes of Show Of Hands and Kate Rusby are releasing albums that are richly rewarding, on the counter, we’ve seen things like Rowan Rheingans’ The Lines We Draw Together and Lunatraktors’ This Is Broken Folk that invoke, to quote Hannah, a ‘what the hell was that?’ response. When folk so often relies on reworkings, rewordings and retunings of traditional music, it’s grand to see the emergence of something as fresh and as exciting as Hannah James is doing.

Watch Hannah and Toby Kuhn talking and performing :

Hannah James online:

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