Honey And The Bear – Away Beyond The Fret: Album Review

Honey And The Bear, with a strong supporting cast, bring another collection of joy and light.

Release Date: 3rd November 2023

Label: Self Released

Format: CD / digital

A couple of years back we went on A Journey Through The Roke with Folk Roots duo Lucy and Jon Hart. Having also seen them play support to Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys some years back, several ‘Lost Boys’ find a home (…sorry…) on Away Beyond The Fret. So with Toby, Evan, Graham and Archie (no Jamie Francis toting his banjo sadly) on board, the accompaniment is guaranteed failsafe.

Alongside the likes of Megson, Gilmore & Roberts and Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman the H&TB duo clearly has enough of a standing in the ‘folk duo’ genre to earn themselves a review in The Guardian online no less (although they managed to get the album title wrong in the heading – Away From The Fret…). Three out of five stars sets some level of expectation which to be fair, is a conservative rating, given the lineup and previous experience.

The new songs find Suffolk folklore to the fore alongside a ‘close to home’ personal family life thread; the work/life balance playing its role in the workplace, feeding the lyrical inspiration that’s evident from a glance at the tracklisting alone – Dear Grandmother, Daughter, Stay With You all reverberate with a familial focus. Nothing like a new birth (they sing of “the ties that bind us” on Silverlace Green) to give perspective and offer a clear vision through the rokes and frets.

There’s also a string of strong characters who appear through the songs. Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson, the first female doctor and female mayor of Aldeburgh, astronomer Cecilia Payne, Salvadorian fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga and the legend of the Black Shuck, immortalised in song before, not just by The Darkness. The tale from the sea in The Mighty Oak tells of the tragic loss of life in a lifeboat mission; one survivor attributing his fortune to carrying three acorns in his pocket for luck – “this one’s for luck on the water” – that sees superstition sitting alongside the closer to home intimacy of the personal songs and reflections.

The final part of a trilogy, closure comes, despite the necessary two-year gap, with a clear link to previous work; the continuity in the backroom team and the familiarity of the themes maintained to continue the sharp focus. With a backing band who can turn their hand to accompanying anything thrown at them from the core of stringed instruments provided by the Harts, there’s a richness in the fuller sound pallette in Dear Grandmother and The Suffolk Hero where the Pop Chorus (a Suffolk-based, feelgood adult contemporary choir) add an angelic, and feelgood, part.

The more rustic arrangement on 5500 Miles and delicacy on Silverlace Green and The Suffolk Hero sit side by side with the brooding Over Land Over Sea where the atmosphere adds to the collection of lively and knee-tapping gatherings, Toby Shaer sawing away on the fiddle setting up urgent tempos.

Should Sam Kelly ever go solo there’s clearly a niche for Honey & The Bear & The Lost Boys. “Many hands make light work,” they sing on Make This Land Our Home, perhaps earning themselves the tag of being their very own Suffolk heroes.

Here’s the opening track from the album, Dear Grandmother:

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