Mary Hampton's 2008 debut My Mother's Children was a distinctly individual distillation of classic folk singer/songwriter influences held together by a sharp, high-pitched voice that was extremely effective at conveying beautiful, if often dark, tales of rural English life.
Her second album took three years after "My Mother's Children" and was received to mixed reviews, which, judging by what Hampton manages to achieve, constitutes one clear case of misunderstanding. Compared to the impressive "My Mother's Children", "Folly" remains a major advance, with more complex songs and arrangements, and even more diverse material in fewer songs. The opener "The Man behind the Rhododendron", is jazzy rather than folksy, but the delicate voice is even softer and the groove simple, soft but memorable. The lyrics, too, have a classic English sense of humour. The traditional folk song "Benjamin Bowmaneer" is no radical departure for Hampton, but the way it uses orchestration to develop over its six minutes surprises the listener who has the patience to expect something significant.
The beautiful "Forget-Me-Not" is much darker, from its first lines about a cuckoo being heard to despair over apparently losing a lover and still singing his song. The backing, too, removes all traces of guitars for electric organ and woodwinds, creating an intense effect that outstrips even post-rock, let alone most folk. "Kiss V", which begins with a more conventional folk guitar, turns into the finest track in Hampton's impressive career as her voice adds dramatic power to the throaty delicacy seen on earlier songs - appropriate for a song exploring the extremes of domestic passion. The quieter parts are particularly passionate yet delicate. All in all, over its six minutes "Kiss V" is a dramatic ride through the darkest emotions.
"Hoax and Benison" naturally fails to keep un the intensity of the previous two tracks, but it is still deep and dark, yet with an amazing sense of humour ("history's what you feel like in the morning") and further unexpected touches such a the single tinkling piano notes in the second verse developing into simple, yet austere, melodies in the third. The second traditional song, "Honey in the Rock", is even catchy yet retains all the intimate, yet sharp, vocal tones of Hampton's own compositions and its religious theme does not contradict, but fits well with the nature theme of Hampton's own revised lyrics. "No. 32" is an Emily Dickinson poem set to music: it is the simplest track here but extremely beautiful, and closer "Lullaby for the Beleaguered" is an exceptionally stark and simple song that manages to sustain its intensity from a few guitar notes in a wonderful way.
All in all, "Folly" is better than the extremely impressive "My Mother's Children", showcasing what must now be regarded as a major talent. Hampton's songs are long but simple, dark yet intimate, soft and powerful and her distinctive throaty voice (often compared to birdsong) expands its depth substantially. This is a record for all fans of folk or singer/songwriters: it carries on yet expands a unique and long-lasting tradition.