Paul Hutchinson – Petrichor: Album Review

Paul Hutchinson gives another demonstration of how to use your lockdown time productively

Release Date:  available now

Label: Self Release

Formats: CD

Well – it’s happened again!  Hot on the heels of Hunter, the superlative new album from Norfolk duo Christina Alden and Alex Patterson comes another wonderful piece of work conceived, composed, recorded and now released during our prolonged period of lockdown. 

As Paul Hutchinson will readily admit, lockdown was a blessing in disguise. With his schedule of live appearances decimated, it gave him the opportunity to pause, reflect and take the time to record an album of his own compositions.  And what an album it is!  Aided by a whole bunch of musicians that Paul has long admired, he has assembled an item of sheer beauty, packed with tunes that combine the folk traditions of Northern, Eastern and Western Europe with classical inspirations, lovingly garnished with lashings of pastoral jazz.  And it’s all expertly played.

Readers may be familiar with Paul Hutchinson. He’s been around in various guises for more than 20 years, including stints with Belshazzar’s Feast, Pagoda Project and, most recently, as a member of The Maniacs, a highly regarded quartet that also features Karen Wimhurst, Seona Pritchard (both of whom play starring roles on Petrichor) and Gill Redmond.  Paul himself has an enviable and highly justified reputation as one of the UK’s leading and most innovative accordionists and his playing has been described as “…Unique, refreshing and, at times, classical in its approach.”  And that’s a very good description.  On top of all that, he’s a well-established leader of multi-instrumental workshops at prestigious festivals and events, not just in the UK, but also in Australia and Czechia.

For Petrichor, Paul has managed to bring together an international ensemble of remarkably talented musicians, all of whom were (fortunately, as it turns out in this case…) left similarly high and dry by lockdown.  Alongside Seona (violin and viola) and Karen (clarinets) Paul is helped out by Swedish duo Väsen – Olov Johansson on 3-row nyckelharpa and oktavharpa & Mikael Marin on violin and violincello da Spalla, Sweden’s Roger Tallroth on guitars, Pascale Rubens (diatonic button accordion) & Toon Van Mierlo (diatonic button accordion and soprano sax) from Belgian duo Naragonia, Karen Axelrod (piano) & Shira Kammen (violin and viola) who both hail from the USA . UK’s Sheepstealers – Callum Baird on double bass, Carol Bartholemew on soprano sax, Nick Barwick on tenor sax and Fiona Stamp on baritone sax – contribute to a couple of tracks and the line-up is completed by Ed Bersey, who plays drums on closing number Minicab Road.  It all makes for a rich, glorious sound.

The album’s even got an interesting title – Petrichor is defined as The earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil.  The word is constructed from the Greek “petra” (rock/stone) and “īchōr” (the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology . That’s something I suspect that many who, like me, spend a lot of time outdoors, love to experience, and I’m really pleased that I’ve now got a name for it!  And the interest doesn’t stop there; there’s a short, often fascinating anecdote to describe how each of the eleven pieces on the album got its title and these range from the straightforward (Petrichor – the title track, To Naragonia, In The Adelaide Hills) via the curious (The Oregon Trail) and the amusing (The Nine Bar Gate, Minicab Road) to the distressing (Promised Land) – the anecdotes are all very helpful in forming the mindset that allows this wonderful music to be enjoyed to best effect.

And make no mistake – this music is very enjoyable indeed.  The quality of the compositions, the selection and blending of the instrumentation and masterful ease with which the tunes are played all add up to a listening experience that is – alternately – charming, uplifting and exhilarating.  For myself, I can only suggest that my Sunday afternoons will never be the same again!

Paul gets things underway with the title track, a 5/4 tune that was one of Paul’s first compositions when lockdown got underway.  It’s a great opener with a traditional, pastoral feel, with Paul’s accordion taking the lead and Seona and Roger filling out the sound.  As I listened, I knew that this is an album that I’m going to like…  Time For a Change emerged from one of Paul’s workshop sessions at Halsway Manor, the National Centre for Folk Arts in Somerset.  It’s a beautiful piece of music, arranged and performed by Väsen with a Swedish-sounding melody line and rich subtle bass notes from Olav’s contrabasharpa, which mutates into a lively violin piece.  An early album highlight.

The Nine Bar Gate provides our first taste of Allaye Sinclair’s marvelous cello playing, on a tune that veers almost into string quartet territory, before we get to polka along The Oregon Trail in a lively tune that provides one of the album’s best examples of its trademark amalgamation of folk, jazz and classical styles.  Shapwick/Tipping Point is another wonderful tune with the ladies and gents from Sheepstealers building a medieval, almost hymnlike mood for the Shapwick part, before Paul and Karen take over with the jaunty hornpipe that is the Tipping Point section.

Paul took the title of Promised Land from the sight of the barbed wire, dogs and armed guards that are, sadly, a common sight at the French Channel Ports, and that mark the end of perilous journeys undertaken by the migrants who select the UK as their destination of dreams.  The tune’s rhythm is intended to represent the footsteps of the migrants as they make their way to that (for most) impenetrable barrier.  It’s another real album highlight, this time with an East European feel (perhaps reflecting the time that Paul had recently spent in Czechia) and Karen’s clarinet and Seona’s violin sound almost as if they’re woven together. The whole idea is brought together to harrowing effect in Paul’s Promised Land video – see below.

To Naragonia is Paul’s tribute to his guests, the eponymous Belgian duo (his “favourite dance band“) who were given the job and arranging and playing the tune.  In yet another beautiful piece of music, Karen and Toon add their jazzy Moving Hearts final touches to a tune with a feel of 16th century Bruges.  In The Adelaide Hills was written for Alleye Sinclair, the album’s cellist, who lives in that beautiful area around and above Adelaide in South Australia.  Another quasi-classical piece, it’s brought to vibrant life by Karen’s spine-chilling clarinet solo.

The title of Cuckoo Lamb is derived from a Hertfordshire rural expression for a lamb born in the spring.  Naragonia, Karen, Alleye and Seona all join Paul on a bright, airy tune that once again, has classical overtones.  As a complete contrast, Supper Club de Keevil (named after a dinner invitation in Paul’s home village of Keevil) is a dark, sophisticated tune that gives more than a suggestion that the said culinary event is to take place in a forbidding stone castle somewhere in Terry Pratchett’s Überwald, rather than in rural Wiltshire.  Forbidding it may be, but it’s also another brilliant, virtuoso piece with yet more clarinet highlights from Karen Wimhurst.

Paul and Producer Ed Bersey invite all the album’s participants to join in for closing number Minicab Road – and Ed himself joins in on drums.  The tune builds slowly in volume and exhilaration and everyone can be heard to do their bit.  It’s a fantastic way to end a wonderful album and to add a final touch, the tune’s title is an anagram of the Brexit Secretary who was famously unaware of the importance of the Dover-Calais crossing.  Nice one Paul!

Watch Paul’s video to The Promised Land, a track from the album, here:

Paul Hutchinson Online: Website/ Facebook

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