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Ground Of Its Own
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 25 July 2012
Knowing little about folk music but wanting to move out of a decade-long obsession with electronica, I began searching for the sound I had in my head; something with the heart and melancholy of folk, its ageless sense of doom and danger, but one that would tell your ears it was 2012.
This album certainly fits a good part of the bill.
Lee, a former burlesque dancer, learnt songs directly from gypsy and traveller communities. His arrangements include the use of Chet Baker-esque trumpets and, I think, the hang, during `On Yonder Hill', the mesmerizing drone of shruti boxes on bizarre transgender ballad `The Tan Yard Slide' and snatches of old opera recordings (`Wild Wood Amber'). His voice sounds modern and Londonish without lapsing into dropped h's, glottal stops and innits.
I'm also working my way through some Imagined Village, Spiro and a comp. album called `Weirdlore'. Any recommendations, do pass them on.
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on 11 July 2012
It defies belief that in these so-called enlightened times an artist can choose to release a virulently racist version of the medieval anti-semitic ballad "The Jew's Garden", otherwise known as "(The Ballad Of) Little Sir Hugh".

The song recounts the 13th-century killing in Lincoln of a young boy, the little Sir Hugh of the title, falsely attributed at the time to a ritual murder by Jews and giving rise to the notorious and infamous 'blood libel' that in turn fuelled centuries of persecution, and still holds currency today in parts of the Arab world.

Other artists tackling the song in the past have at least had the sensitivity to edit out the blatantly anti-semitic references, most famously Steeleye Span on their 1974 album "Commoner's Crown", and so it comes as a nasty shock to find Sam Lee openly perpetuating its loathsome subject matter, seemingly unperturbed by the song's unwholesome origins.

Yes, art is art and should be judged on its own merits but at the end of the day whether we like it or not some things simply cross that invisible line. What lingers longest here, and gets in the way of any objective review of the album as a whole, is the highly unpleasant taste left by an unforgivable error of judgment.
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on 17 July 2012
Here is a wonderfully crafted new album by a relative newcomer to the genre. I'm no knit-your-own-youghourt folkie but Lee's approach is gentle and intelligent and he makes a tune unfold beautifully in ways you would not expect. Most are truly moving - Goodbye my Darling and the Tan Yard Slide are lyrical and sad - whilst a couple of jolly foot-tappers will lift your mood. His medieval-styled lyrics coupled with the use of unexpected instruments - marimba, trumpet, sleigh-bells, steel drums, clarinet (from what I can hear) - are idiosyncratic but they just work - a mark of someone who really 'gets' music. His voice is magnificent, soft and gentle: a lovely instrument. I will certainly be looking to purchase previous albums. I wouldn't get too upset about the anti-semitic sentiment causing a previous reviewer to only give one star. People sing about life, good or bad - deal with it.

Update - short listed for the Mercury Prize 2012 but sadly not the winner. Sorry, this is a debut album so no previous works to compare.
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on 19 July 2012
So, what's the latest "enfant terrible" of the nu-folk scene got to offer us (after all that pre-publicity) then ? Well, putting aside any considerations of the virtues of song collection or the merits of re-interpreting the "tradition", and just simply listening to it as an album in its own right, it's sort of ... overwhelmingly alright. Actually it verges on the slightly boring at times and struggles to hold my attention at times. I'm afraid that for my punk-rock ears a whole album totally devoid of guitars and without much in the way of drums is a bit too much for me to take all in one go. (Don't be alarmed, punk & folk are two sides of the same coin I reckon). However, and let's concentrate on this, it does contain a couple of absolute gems.

The best is On Yonder Hill where the part of "lead guitar" is taken by "hunting horn". OK it's actually a trumpet but that's what it (deliberately) sounds like, brilliant, brilliant, absolute genius. The other gem is Goodbye My Darling, which (once it gets going) sounds like Outdoor Miner by Wire, yes, it really does. It's worth the price of admission just for these two tracks alone. Actually it would be worth it just for On Yonder Hill alone.

A word on the earlier review by Leonardo27 who has completely missed the point to an almost unbelievable degree. As Sam explained on a recent Mike Harding show, the song The Jew's Garden is there to demonstrate how the English can be shown in a bad-light regarding anti-semitism. So therefore, one could say that the presence of the song here is effectively anti-English rather than anti-semitic. Was Leonardo27 not aware that Sam is Jewish ? It seems to get mentioned in every interview he does and every article about him.
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on 16 January 2013
Firstly, credit where it is due - Sam does have a fine voice and has obviously taken great pains to collect this song collection.

I just can't relate the glowing comments here to what I've listened to however.

Quick summary for the album? - it all sounds the same - droning, warbling, dreary - far too earnest. In track 4 there was the momentary hope that some pace and flair might develop but he pulls himself back before any fun is had.

Backing instrumentation is rarely coherent and at worst sounds like someone left an appliance on in the back room or is blundering through a music shop in the dark.

Listening to this I have no sense of identity between tracks and never got close to tapping a foot or humming along. Sorry - dull, dull, dull
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on 18 October 2016
I saw Sam Lee make a cameo in a Tony Robinson TV programme walking the Icknield Way. Something in his voice, singing a snippet of Dark Eyed Sailor, struck a chord deep inside me. One listen to this album has me hooked. I find his voice deeply moving. The ambient setting, reminiscent of, God I don't know - King Creosote and Jon Hopkins? Robert Wyatt? Sigur Ros? None of the above, probably - is the perfect backdrop to set off his voice. I have read complaints about his "London accent" but I can't detect it and I was born in N1. There is a hint of Nic Jones (Orpington) or Martin Carthy (Hatfield) but it is hardly Damon Albarn "Mockney". Maybe, as a previous reviewer suggested, he is a bit Marmite. That's OK: I love Marmite, slathered thickly on hot buttered toast.
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on 11 November 2012
I read an article and then watched a video clip of how Sam Lee got most of this music direct from Romany people and I was fascinated. His singing is good, a bit quirky but stays with the spirit of the songs. The accompaniment is quite unusual, and you will either love it or loathe it - or both depending on the song. So either raise the rating to 5 stars or cut it to 2 or 3 depending. Certainly original and different, well worth trying.
To Leonardo27, who objects to the anti-semitic song "The Jew's Garden" (Sam Lee is Jewish, and so am I) I would suggest simply reading the booklet notes, which make Sam's point of view on this very very clear - as already noted, the target isn't Jews it's the medieval English. (That's assuming you can read the booklet notes - good eyesight and good light essential as it's ultra-trendy very thin, light-grey print on a cream-coloured background with the odd brown line right across some of the words.)
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on 4 December 2012
I found this an imaginative and sympathetic treatment of what are clealy ancient songs. In some of the songs, a sense of loss and longing are touchingly conveyed. Lee's working of the material [using birdsong, sensitively entwining and overlaying other themes,] enabled me to feel a connection to those who had long ago expressed these emotions, and which continue to echo for all of us. Even without the imaginative accompaniment, Lee's voice by itself is a pleasure to listen to. I liked the way he changes key in the middle of some songs in a way that conveys heightened feelings. For me, there was a sense of mystery about 'George Collins' and the song about the hare which invite me to explore the songs deeper meanings. I hope that in due course Sam Lee will issue another collection of similar songs and further draw out their beauty using the techiniques utilsed on this album.
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on 24 September 2017
Thank you Tony Robinson for letting sam sing as he walked the Icknield Way.
You either like or love Sam's style. I love it.
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on 15 December 2015
I wasn't sure about Sam Lee at first, not being that keen on his voice. After being knocked out by the arrangements (of which his voice is crucial to the mix of instrumental sounds) on his second album I went back to this first effort and now really like it; a unique take on traditional music.
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