Folk Police have once again released a very fine album in Weirdlore, which was compiled in part to accompany and expand upon a musical event scheduled for June 2012 but sadly cancelled due to lacklustre advance ticket sales. The event, featuring several of the artists on the cd, would I think have been marvellous, but at least we have this very nice compilation which features exclusive songs by eighteen artists working in the dusky verges of folk music.
Many of the artists assembled here have previously graced the John Barleycorn Reborn series of cds, and Weirdlore seems clearly to be inspired in part by those releases, right down to the style of the album art (though to me the sleeve design here is disappointing). As such I consider it to be something of a companion to that series, with an almost identical focus, gathering music that resides within the realm of folk and acid-folk, not light-years from mainstream folk and certainly intertwined with it yet at the same time perhaps too strange to be normal.
If You Fall I'll Fall With You by Starless And Bible Black is one of my favourites, where dreamy female vocals drift and two guitars weave patterns together and the result is not unlike some of the work of Pentangle. Another highlight is Sproatly Smith's take on the traditional Rosebuds In June, replete with curious sound-effects and a flock of sheep it is both gently seductive and faintly detached. Emily Portman's Spine Of A Wave is another wonder, and as with many of the songs here it explores mystical territory, in this case being inspired by a dream she had in which a man turned into a whale. Telling The Bees draw inspiration from The Golden Bough, their song alive with eastern phrasing building to a frenzied climax. Pamela Wyn Shannon's track is really lovely, the whispered names of mosses upon a beautiful atmospheric soundscape. Alisdair Roberts' Haruspex Of Paradox is quietly majestic, breath-taking and intricate, I am reminded of Robin Williamson's rambling story-songs. And talking of Robin Williamson, one of his Incredible String Band songs, Come With Me, is covered by Kate Denny (formerly of the Kittiwakes) and The Witches - it's nice but The Owl Service's Steven Collins provides some vocals and whatever effect he has used on his voice it sounds like he has a clothespeg on his nose, which is a bit distracting.
Jeanette Leech, (author of The Seasons They Change) wrote a curious essay in which she seems overly pre-occupied with such shallow things as fashions, folky pigeon-holes and commercial viability (or the lack thereof) of this music, to which I don't relate. She then moves on to devote rather too much space to eulogizing Alisdair Roberts. To me these pages could have been put to better use expanding the biographies or musings of the bands, or with some of Rob Young's (author of the wonderful Electric Eden) florid observations, but instead we get a cold lecture that seems to lose sight of the essence of the music, or to miss the fact that many people who like this music are passed superficial pigeon-holes, the opinion-molding efforts of critics and fads. Maybe they arrived at this music by circuitous and unique routes and take delight in finding honest, explorative music that they resonate deeply with, they probably aren't checking the pulse of "the scene" every five minutes.
Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine provides an introduction, as well as a very fine new interpretation of one of his songs from days of yore, in the guise of The False Beards. I was a frequent reader of the then Folk Roots magazine in the 90's, and I'm thinking wryly that back then they would quite likely have cast three-quarters of the artists on this collection into the lions-pit of the "And The Rest" review section, to be torn apart by anonymous critics for our entertainment (there really was some "folk policing" going on and that aloofness was a key reason I stopped reading the magazine). Good on him for embracing this.
Anyway, back to the music, should you purchase a copy of Weirdlore you can expect to hear some truly wonderful and varied music, infused with the essence of traditional music and folklore but not restricted by it. If you feel that folk music should be strictly about preservation through re-enactment and that purveyors should behave themselves with these brittle artefacts this might not be a good choice, on the other hand if you recognise music to be a living thing that's always been in a state of flux, and you have a fascination with our weird heritage and folklore it might well be for you. All round, yet another intriguing and inspired cd from the Folk Police label.