"Folk music? That's all finger in the ear and hey nonny nonny stuff isn't it?" laughed a man I met recently.
How I wish he could hear this album. He'd have a job dismissing folk in those terms if he did. And an even harder job describing this unique new approach to traditional English music.
Jim Moray, just 21 and a recent graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire, is making mischief in the folk world,turning it on its head and injecting it with colossal new life.By adding the word "techno" to "traditional" he could be the best hope yet of taking folk/roots to a mainstream audience.
He made his mark as runner up in Radio 2's Young Folk Awards with a haunting version of "Poverty Knock" and hearing him on the radio some time afterwards was one of those rare moments when you literally stop what you're doing and listen. The only word for it is "arresting".
Now, after his EP "I am Jim Moray" comes "Sweet England", a collection of 10 songs, including some of our best known ballads. The recording started life in his bedroom, created by equipment largely paid for by a student grant and took on a life of its own. Few folk singers walk on stage with state-of-the-art music software ready to sample snatches of songs that are then brought back into play to huge effect throughout the number. Don't ask me how it works - you'd have to ask him. But those echoing vocal samples are mesmorising, especially when you see him live.
This is an "into the future" slant on ancient songs about love and longing, heroes and villains, squires and maidens - and the odd colley bird thrown in for good measure!
His "Gypsies", based on the traditional "Raggle Taggle Gypsies", will send shockwaves through the veins of purists with its dischordant menace while the unaccompanied clear tenor singing on this and "The Week Before Easter" proves he can sing without the help of high tech trappings, not to mention play guitar and keyboards.
His voice is effortless in the opening classic "Early One Morning" while "April Morning" is enhanced by his sister's (I think)beautiful fiddle playing and the title track is simply sublime.
Then there's the echoing soundwash of "Lord Bateman" while the technical wizardy is probably shown to best effect in "The Seeds of Love" with its complex sound layering. A self-penned song "Looking for Lucy" wraps the album up and shows he has songwriting skills too.
So, at one take, Moray has preserved our musical heritage and taken it to a higher technical plain. It's an album that will grow on you with each playing, just as Moray's fame will escalate if there's any justice.
So buy this album and even better catch him at one of the many folk festivals he is playing this year. Whatever you make of his music, you can't ignore it. Moray is an innovator and the haunting nature of this album is even reflected in the bizarre pictures on the CD sleeve.
As he says himself :"This is just folk music from the point of view of someone that has heard hip-hop and The Smiths and Radiohead and S-Club". He's already played Glastonbury, littered the radio airwaves with his music and made teenage girls swoon on the other side of the Atlantic. What next for Jim Moray?
His album is on the amusingly-titled label Niblick is a Giraffe. If Niblick is a giraffe, Jim Moray is a genius.....