Words by Tim Cumming. Reviewed in the Jan/Feb 2015 (#105) edition.
Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker recently performed their new album in full in London, with a chamber ensemble and guests including Jim Moray at the piano, vocalists Samantha Whates and Sam Brookes, an eight-strong string section and a trumpet, French horn and oboe. It was one of the most striking folk gigs of this year; this follow-up album to the duo’s debut, Fire and Fortune, is surely also one of 2014’s best folk albums.
Clarke’s voice suits her songs’ words perfectly: it has an English reserve and melancholy with an unsettling darkness behind it. The album’s title is from Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode and it is haunted by great passing shadows of doubt, remembrance and regret. Walker’s arrangements are superlative – a folk chamber-ensemble sound – though he reduces it to just Clarke’s voice and his own sublime guitar playing on the traditional ‘I Wonder What is Keeping My True Love Tonight’. Clarke’s lyrics have depth and richness, and hold their own beside great traditional songs such as ‘The Queen of Hearts’ and ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’. The album works as a complete, interconnected suite of great focus and power.