There’s a lot to be said for working on music that you really love, and Harbottle & Jonas’s new album, Saving the Good Stuff Vol.1 is absolutely testament to that. The album started life at the end of 2019 as a series of uploads and streams on social media – they shared a cover song with the world each week, honouring musicians and creatives that they admire, and giving nearly 150 traditional and original songs a metaphorical fresh lick of paint.
The series continued into early 2020, gaining a keen following, and then really found its niche as a mainstay of people’s weekly lockdown routine. Five minutes on a Sunday morning when you didn’t have to worry about loo roll…
Songs from the series entered Harbottle & Jonas’s live set when gigs restarted and have become fan favourites. Although this is only a mini album, coming in at just eight tracks, it’s a well-formed offering and the inclusion of ‘Vol.1’ in the title offers the hint of a tease that there’s more to come.
As “partners in life and music”, David Harbottle and Freya Jonas have now been writing and performing together for 10 years, and perhaps it is this connection that helps to bring such cohesion to their arrangements of both old and new music. On Saving the Good Stuff, you’ll find two traditional songs and a hymn alongside the work of Iris Dement and Joy Division, as well as lesser-known wordsmiths, all treated with equal care and attention. Despite the diversity of the songs’ provenance, they all carry an air of reflection, tidily holding the album together as one unified whole.
The arrangements are Dave’s work, carefully crafted to really showcase the pair’s multitude of instrumental talents, and those of their collaborators – a shout-out to Richard Trethewey, Jenny Jonas, Andy Tyner and Claire Sutton for their contributions to an album that is bigger than the sum of its parts. I’m a self-confessed sucker for a flugelhorn, so to review two albums in a row featuring its mellow tones is a bonus treat! Not content with simply ‘arranging the theme tune and singing the theme tune’, the album was also recorded by Dave at the duo’s South Devon home. Is there no end to that man’s talents?
Freya takes the bulk of vocal leadership, and with a voice equally at home in traditional song and the cross-genre covers, she delivers an authentic performance across the whole album. She seems able to cross-pollinate the styles, bringing an extra something to each one, whether that’s a country edge to ‘Wild Mountain Time’ or a plaintive, folksong-esque vibe to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. If Joy Division had popped in a bit about how the lovers would be reunited in seven long years and a day, it’d be a classic folk tale.
A highlight? For me, the real earworm ‘Now The Green Blade Riseth’ – an Easter carol with words by a chap named John Macleod Campbell Crum. (I’m only telling you his name because what a name it is!) He wrote a few hymns in his time, but this is undoubtedly the most widely known, usually paired with an old French tune, ‘Noel Nouvelet’. I could be here all day telling you about the history of carol and tune (another time perhaps) but it’s this modal melody and the duo’s open vocal harmonies, combined with the timbral change of a cheeky oboe line and some subtle percussion in the refrain between verses, which perk up the ears and transport the listener to another musical time period. Quick branle, anyone?
Saving the Good Stuff Vol.1 was released on February 1st. It can be streamed on all the usual streaming channels. For more information on Harbottle & Jonas, head to harbottleandjonas.com.