We’re kicking off the year in stripped-down acoustic style with the latest instrumental album from devoted fingerpicker, Ben Morgan-Brown. It’s not strictly a tradfolk album, it’s true, but there’s a lot here to love for fans of the genre, especially if your route to traditional music came via the likes of Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Davy Graham. As such, Down by the Great River Ouse is a lovely “guitar troubadour” album – the kind of collection that would’ve cheered up countless turntables in the late 60s/early 70s, and will no doubt tick plenty of boxes for readers of this website. Pair with last year’s Lammas Fair (Henry Parker) and you’ll have a good night in (or a good night out, if any promoters fancy fixing up an intriguing double-header).
Boasting more open tunings than most guitarists come across in their lifetime, Morgan-Brown is a fine instrumentalist – pastoral, gentle, rarely (but sometimes) brooding, with a level of restraint that is both tasteful and admirable. When you have the kind of chops that this fellow has, it must be tempting to head off into flights of highspeed fancy, but that’s not what Down by the Great River Ouse is about. It’s an album that appears to delight in memories – nostalgic without being mawkish – and as such, it has the kind of English folk quality that the likes of Nick Drake once teased from their strings.
Definite highlights include the title track, ‘Down by the Great River Ouse’, the undeniably Jansch-y ‘The Last Time I Saw Martin’, the darker, Drake-esque ‘Stream of Tyres Lament’, the rich, chocolate chords of ‘Queen Birch’, and the tribute to Martin Carthy (by Morgan-Brown’s own admission) ‘The Border Trot’. Particularly gorgeous is dual-structured ‘The Scaffold of Churches’, named after Reg Meuross told Morgan-Brown that the piece he was noodling with, “sounds like church scaffolding”.
Not released until February 4th, this album – painted in the golds and browns of late summer – will certainly bring a bit of light to our current grey, winter days. And it may even tempt the country’s acoustic guitarists to pull on a thumb pick and dip their strings to DADGAD. It has certainly put this guitarist in the right mood.
Recorded beautifully by George Arnold at Rapunzel Studios, Devon, this is a treat for anyone with a good pair of headphones. Wrap yourself up in Ben Morgan-Brown’s world and set sail on the great River Ouse.