These cold, dark days could do with a bit of brightening, couldn’t they? Grab yourself a copy of Volume 1, the debut album from acoustic duo, Jenn Butterworth & Will Pound. That’s my advice. Describing it as a foot-tapper doesn’t do it justice. You’ll be thwacking all of your frostbitten stumps against resonating surfaces before you know it.
Take the opening track, ‘Reckoned’, as an instant example. Pound’s original tune, ‘The Reckoning’, paired with ‘The Barrowburn Reel’ make for a high-energy jumping-off point, not to mention a glittering showcase for two exemplary musicians. The British folk scene is full of great players, but actual virtuosos are few and far between. Will Pound demonstrates here why he is so frequently mentioned amongst them, his harmonica playing clean, precise and (quite frankly) bordering on the ridiculous in terms of speed and agility. In his hands, the instrument hops from folk modes to blues howls like a flea with a serious flea infestation. It will not sit still, and neither do you want it to. Playing of this nature is nothing short of exhilarating. As my teenage children explain, music of this kind induces exquisite moments of ‘stank face’, such is the skill on display…
Given that Pound’s is invariably the lead instrument, it’s all too easy to get distracted from what else is going on. But musicians will know where to focus their ears. Jenn Butterworth won Scots Trad Music Awards Musician of the Year in 2019, and her reputation is evidently well-founded. Listen to the drive she puts into the pieces. Her’s is the energy on which this album bounces along. The flourishes that punctuate ‘Bourrées’ – those super-tight, superfast strumming patterns… they’re the mark of a highly-gifted rhythm guitarist. On the third song, ‘Better Things’, she demonstrates a fine set of vocal cords, too, and an interesting line of historical interest. The piece, with lyrics by Peggy Seeger, was written for the Aldermaston marches in 1958, and features the wonderful and, sadly, still appropriate chorus…
There’s better things to do
Than blow this world in two;
You could live into your old age
And your kids’ll be normal too.
‘Sheba’ demonstrates that the pair have a few party tricks up their sleeve, as they channel the spirit of Belshazzar’s Feast and turn their folkie skills on the work of Handel, adding a kind of Quebecois flourish to ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’. It’s another spirited recording and one where Butterworth shows that you can steal the limelight even from the shadowy environs of the accompaniest’s chair; death-defying, finger-bamboozling chord shapes whizz up and down the guitar’s neck, much to the amazement and enticement of the casual listener.
‘Beggarman’ finds Pound back in default setting – the Martin Simpson of the free reed world – straddling traditional folk and blues tunes and teasing out the fine lines that make them such obvious relations. Butterworth drives him forward with a vicious combination of force, focus and style, and you’re left wishing you were in the room to cheer them on.
The closing track, ‘Speedy’ is an album highlight, as the duo conjour the warmth of a late summer’s evening out of the tried-and-tested traditional tune, ‘Speed the Plough’, collected by Cecil Sharp from gypsy fiddler John Locke in 1909. This cascades into ‘The Hesleyside Reel’, putting some of that warmth to great use as the blue notes creep in, the virtuosity hits new heights, and the listener is left helpless against the urge to cut an absolute rug. Stank faces all round.
Volume 1 by Jenn Butterworth & Will Pound is out on February 24th. The album will be released on their Bandcamp page, willpoundandjennbutterworth.bandcamp.com.