The Devil & The Farmer's Wife ’ΔΆ Songs of Frost & Fire ’ΔΆ Prehistory ’ΔΆ Somerset Sisters ’ΔΆ On Weymouth Strand



The Devil And The Farmer's Wife (RQ Records)
David Kidman

Yvette may be known to some readers as one half of the perversely contrarily-named Roots Quartet, who for the past 20 or so years (albeit in several wildly differing incarnations) have been ploughing their own unassuming yet individual folky furrow down in Somerset with occasional forays into touring folk venues nationwide...

...The "band" as such is "resting" at present, it would appear, while Yvette concentrates on other activities such as being a farmer's wife and leading singing workshops etc. - and presumably promoting her latest CD release. It's nominally a solo album, but it also features various instrumental and vocal contributions from Yvette's long-term collaborators Abbie Lathe & Bronwen Harrison (both ex-RQ) and Michelle Hicks (present-day RQ), with Nigel Pope, Joanna Harvey, Jane Harwood and Shirley Screech.

The CD presents an almost casual little programme of what Yvette calls "farm-folk", a sequence of eight songs, all of Yvette's own creation (and by the way, it does not include the song you might expect from the album's title!). These compositions serve to bring to our attention the plight of the modern farmer through intriguingly-crafted observations on the rural way of life which build upon the legacy of English folksong. Not exactly in the manner of Show Of Hands, although the press release hints at a comparable sensibility in Yvette's take on matters rural. I suppose you might say that the nine tracks form a kind of patchwork of fields growing contrasting crops ... and together, the collection is described as "a personal view of farming today, interwoven with silliness, folksong and fantasy".

The opener, Crazy Aunt Cottage (ostensibly a kind of new-age lullaby, but its stridency is more likely to keep the babe awake!) doesn't quite connect for me, but thereafter we get down to business with some simple yet powerful commentaries and I love the rest of the album. The Bluebell Herd was inspired by the FMD catastrophe, The Sea And The Soil examines (in divine vocal harmony!) the true cost of food and the concept of wastage within the global economy, and - probably finest of all - the solo acapella Who Understands The Land? persuasively addresses our underappreciation of farmers. Sedgemoor 1685 is a stirring vision of "the pitchfork poor called to war", and Road To Araby a kind of farmer's wishful dream I suppose, while the stark tale of The Greyman (a co-write with Abbie) is a concise Lied-like highlight. In complete contrast, Patio Song is a deliciously vengeful barbershop-style ditty inspired by a local wifebeating! Finally, there's an unpretentious instrumental interlude in the form of a simply-conceived piano arrangement of Pretty Nancy.

This disc has a very appealing homespun cottage-industry vibe, and Yvette's songs all have something important to say. David Kidman www.Netrhythms.co.uk A-Z album and gig reviews

BACK TO TOP

 



'Gift of Music' - a review of the Songs of Frost & Fire CD by Rod Hancox - Somerset County Gazette

A SEASONAL gift of music comes in the shape of a new CD from the locally-based Roots Quartet. If the prospect of female vocals floating over cello recorders, keyboards and guitars sets your heart aflutter, ‘Songs of Frost and Fire’ is for you.

Besides the European influence on this CD there is also some honest experimentation and new songwriting which sits not just comfortably alongside the tried and tested but head and shoulders above it.

This mix of a capella and instrumentally augmented songs adds up to a celebration of the seasonal that Ashley Hutchings or John Kirkpatrick would also be proud of…but it is also a celebration of woman power. Songs of Frost and Fire simply bursts with energy. With gorgeous harmonies and heart-warming melodies. And it all seems do effortless…even for a quartet of three.

Following a forceful opener and the sustained mellowness of The Holly and The Ivy, the trio can no longer contain themselves as they burst into the lush lullaby of A La Nanita Nana, a joyous Spanish carol. Then having secured the future of all the apples in Gloucestershire with a lively attack on the customary wassailing song, the album springs the second of its several surprises with Lovely Mary, a delightful instrumental on keyboard piano which although freshly composed sounds as familiar as church bells on Sunday. Despite its beauty, Lovely Mary turns out to be a gateway to the album’s centrepiece, Robin and Marian, in which an exquisite fragile breathy lead vocal is pursued (through the forest) and ultimately entrapped by some insistent recorder playing. Despite nudging the six-minute mark, Robin and Marian is not a second too long. The CD is worth acquiring for this alone and if Songs of Frost and Fire attracts the exposure it deserves I can see other artists wanting to tackle it.But there are more gems to come. Another new song, Dream, is a clever restless echoey a capella while Peace of Night is astonishing, both intriguing and compelling as it juxtaposes something almost spiritual with tidal harmonies delivered with the vocal wah-wah pedal jammed down. As its title suggests, this song contains healing properties. Robin and Marian may be the best song on this CD but Peace of Night is my favourite.

Any album worth its birth leaves you with something memorable and RQ’s immaculate closing cover of Snow Falls (a celebration of renewal) demands reverance without straying into overblown grandeur. Like Dylan once did, they suddenly go electric and the recorder is ditched for what sounds like lead-guitar played like a violin to deliver distant eeriness reminiscent of mist on the moors.

I gush, so my reservations are slight, though one concerns the programming, in that an opening song is a win ‘em or lose ‘em slot, and Diu vi Salvi Regina (whilst no doubt harmonically ‘correct’) reaches a Corsican stridency which might perturb some English ears. And if you listen to this CD a little too pickily, you may pick up on the odd flaw here and there.

Taken as a whole Songs of Frost and Fire is as welcome as a shot of sloe gin in front of the fire. It is mature but brave, intensive yet familiar, fun but Cecil Sharp authoritative.

Rod Hancox, Somerset County Gazette

 

Songs of Frost & Fire - 500 Years of Midwinter Song
"A performance of sparkling frosts ...and crackling fires"

With their show, 'Songs of Frost & Fire', Roots Quartet bring you delicious arrangements of traditional, period and contemporary songs to celebrate the joy of Yuletide, the revelry of Twelfth Night and the hope of Candlemas. Into warm, full-bodied vocals they add a rich blend of cello, dulcimer and other instrumental spices to create a glow for the hot punch season.
The wonderful harmonies sent shivers down my back whilst the stories of the songs warmed the cockles of my heart. A truly memorable performance!'

Charley Dearden, Director Bridgwater Arts Centre

BACK TO TOP

Songs in the Key of Summer - Workshop Review by Jane Durham
5th May 2007 Minehead. What a wonderful day!

30 of us, including many for the first time, gathered for the "Songs in the key of Summer" workshop.
First we sang a round written by Yvette just the night before (as you do!) about the River Severn at Gloucester. We moved through Cuba; South Africa; Zimbabwe and back home again. Especially for our day, Yvette had researched an old Minehead song recorded in 1907 from a blacksmith, William Sparks. She sang this to us.

To progress from breathing and clapping exercises, to learning about eight songs and to presenting a "performance" for our friends at the end of the day, was a real achievement. Yvette's expertise, energy and enthusiasm got us there. As the door of the Quaker Meeting House was left open, there might have been some very surprised people in the town that day.

This is something we should persuade Yvette to repeat as there is clearly a need (and much hidden talent!) in West Somerset. So please Yvette...

BACK TO TOP

 



Somerset Sisters (RQ Records)
Jonathan Dean
'Stunning a capella close harmony singing'
...These two singers spring from the English tradition of a capella close harmony singing. The sounds are rich and wonderful--the words of the songs are like the jokes women tell each other--all about sex without actually being dirty. There is a wonderful track of one of the remaining women singers from Somerset. An unmitigated delight. Buy it!

Spiffing Green Man Review of the Somerset Sisters album!!
click here to go to the web site

BACK TO TOP



Feature! 'Farmer's Wife Sings the Sounds of the Land'
Sarah Pitt interviewed Yvette for the Western Morning News. read it online at...
Read the interview as a PDF

BACK TO TOP