Spiers & Boden – Fallow Ground: Album Review

Spiers & Boden return, going against the grain on a set of scrubbed up traditional songs with a joyous edge.

Release date: 17th September 2021

Label: Hudson Records

Format: digital / CD / LP

Absence makes the heart grow fonder so they say. It’s ten years since the last album from John Spiers and Jon Boden. 2011’s The Works which gathered a set of folk star studded re-recordings from their repertoire. The duo have been on hiatus since 2014 following a farewell (for the time being…) tour before pledging allegiance to the roaring success of Bellowhead. Until the 1st of May 2016 that is…

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and we could certainly do with a lift; an injection of jollity. Fun. Light relief. And zero death. A hard task when you’re seeking out traditional folk songs, but by Jiminey, Jon and John have only gone and done it. Never mind Jeff Tracey and his boys at International Rescue. Just call on Spiers & Boden at the wheel of their own organically powered and ethically sound Folk Thunderbird to come to the rescue.

Songs and tunes pour forth as the duo shuffle through various dusty and half-finished, remembered fragments; bringing new life and a grand polish, scrubbing them up rather nicely. Check the fuller notes on the source material in the album package.

Australian folk songs are mined for the opening cut. One discovered in the repertoire of Peter Bellamy is Bluey Brink; one that tells the tale of a character of superhuman sheep shearing and drinking powers, be it twelve gallons of beer or sulphuric acid (disclaimer – don’t try this at home). One too that sets the lighter (although in this case, slightly dangerous) tone and should have listeners unable to resist their own version of the english chair dance within the first ten seconds as Jon keeps time on the stomp box thingy. Butter & Cheese & All is a similar delight with the humorous food themed tale given a sprightly tune.

The recurrence of the uptempo themes continues with Hind Horn complete with its audience participation chorus of “in the morning bright and early.” The title track is a fitting love song – check the song notes in the package. Having given us a wake up call early doors, for a few moments, the pace of the album slackens briefly. The thought also occurs that I’d love to hear Springsteen having a go at Yonder Banks (arr. Spiers & Boden naturally).

The tune sets sees the pair seamlessly stitching collections of traditional pieces with their own inspired material; hornpipes jig and Playford variations coming thick and fast while Squeezy John’s morris inclinations rising to the surface. Not necessarily the pick, but a personal favourite is the combination of a Boden tune, Giant’s Waltz (self explanatory) with a Spiers tune, The Ironing Board Hornpipe. Dare one suggest that the latter in particular (along with the Cheshire Hornpipe and Bailey Hill while I think about it) would be brilliant arranged for a bigger band…?

The tune sets are a reminder that its good to hear Jon Boden back (as the Levellers would say) ‘on the fiddle’. Over the past few years, it’s been quite common to see him accompany himself with greater frequency on guitar but the reunion with his old pals sees him reunited with the warmth of the old four string. There can hardly be any doubt that the pair have egged each other on into stellar performances. You can thank Manchester’s The Slow Readers Club for the phrase, ‘the joy of the return’.

Don’t be fooled by the album title. Spiers (rhymes with ‘pliers’ remember...) & Boden have surpassed themselves with the riches on Fallow Ground.

Here’s Funney Eye which is on the new album:

Spiers & Boden online: Website / Facebook / Twitter

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