To my mind, what sets Jim Moray apart from other artists working in a similar field is that although he is predominantly dealing in traditional folk music, he has clearly heard and absorbed much from contemporary areas of music, most notably prog rock and punk/new wave, and he's not afraid to show it. Maybe it happens subconsciously sometimes too I think. He's even dabbled with hip-hop and grime in his past work.
Here is his 5th album proper (not counting the self-released I Am Jim Moray), and while it isn't as great as his self-titled second album (because nothing else is, by anybody), or his previous album In Modern History which had a greater variety of styles (and some fantastic drumming), it's still a masterpiece.
It comprises ten tracks without a duff one in sight. Some of the highlights include :
Lord Douglas, which was available in a seemingly unfinished version (then titled Earl Brand) on the collaborative Cecil Sharp Project album last year. Here is the finished version on which Jim really inhabits the song in a way that few other performers manage(June Tabor excepted). I imagine that he must be very proud of the way this one has worked out.
Horkstow Grange, with its multi-tracked vocal that initially sounds as if it was sung using a vocoder but nothing so easy for Jim. This one should really have the folk-purists running back to their Fairport albums in search of some safe shelter.
Hind Etin, a traditional tale of an abducting, flute playing, wood dweller, notable for the "soothing flute" being represented by a grungy noise that is about as far away from a flute as you could possibly get.
The absolute highlight has been left right to the end. This is Seven Long Years on which the prog influence really comes to the fore. This is arranged as a crescendo over its five minutes. My only criticism of this is that it is ten minutes too short !! It also sounds a bit like Are 'Friends' Electric? to my ears but I expect I'll be in a minority of one with that thought.
Also on the album is a version of Fleetwood Mac's Big Love which features Jim on banjo, and some blistering harp playing by Will Pound. It's good stuff, but I can actually take or leave this track. However, if it serves to act as a gateway to his other work for some people, then job done.
Ultimately this is probably Jim's most traditional album (by his standards that is), and it sits pretty much in the middle of his excellent body of work. It's a lot better than his third album Low Culture (although I know that many people regard Low Culture as being his best), which whilst also being a really good album did not feature such a strong set of songs, nor did it show such a powerful voice as he has demonstrated on everything else he's done.
Mention should also be made of the terrific sleeve featuring Jim in a clinch with a member of the cast of EastEnders, Sorrel take a bow.
Four months into the year and nothing has come close to touching this so far. Albums by John Wetton (Icon), Peter Hammill, Nanci Griffith, Killing Joke, Trembling Bells and Hush Arbors/Arbouretum are next, but a long way behind.