"Bugbears", the latest offering from the scarily prolific Darren Hayman, is presented as an accompaniment to his almost flawless last release "The Violence". It is a collection of thirteen folk songs from the seventeenth century and Stuart era that Hayman has "revised, edited and even re-written in places". Mercifully, this does not mean that the album is a fiddly-dee karaoke exercise! Rather, it presents itself as a (lyrically) less bleak and (musically) more trad, version of "The Violence".
Opening tune "Martin Said" sets the scene. Described in the beautifully written sleeve notes as a "drinking song", it does indeed swing along drunkenly with plucked banjos, a weepy fiddle and Darren's endearingly wobbly vocal. The next tune "Bugbears" is a thing of delicate beauty. The acoustic arpeggios, whispered vocal, soft chiming keyboards and HEARTBREAKING melody all add up to a song that captivates from beginning to end. It's Darren Hayman on full power, and that is a wonderful thing.
The album continues with a smattering of pleasant instrumentals and eminently more effective (and affecting) vocal tracks. "Hey Then Up We Go", with its derelict chapel organ, is like a spooky nursery rhyme. "The Contented" is a great slow-paced piano number about politicians and its major-to-minor melody is marvellous. "Impossibilities", meanwhile, should come with an EARWORM caution because it is DANGEROUSLY catchy. No surprises there, though. I've had Darren Hayman songs spinning round in my head for days at a time. The man is gifted, to be sure.
All said and done, "Bugbears" is forty minutes of top quality, bucolic music. Its only minor flaw is that the instrumental tracks are a tad forgettable (a shame, as Hayman's vocal-free concept album "Lido" overflows with gorgeous, wordless music).
This flaw is only minor, though. In the main, "Bugbears" has all the warmth, friendliness, harmony and lyrical bite of D.Hayman at his finest. Oh, and the artwork on the album release is a DELIGHT. Enjoy....