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Ange Hardy: in praise of neglected folk

Salut! Live has a substantial archive that the sidebars allow you to explore but, when it comes to new material, the site necessarily falls victim to other demands on my time. Bourgeoise as this will sound, I need to earn a living. Labours of love are fine, but cannot always be allowed to get in the way of proper work. But a promise is a promise, and I said elsewhere that a review of Ange Hardy's album would appear this weekend ...

Ange Hardy: Bare Foot Folk (Story Records)

If Ange Hardy had not tracked me down, via Twitter I believe, she would be in the happy position of knowing less about my life. Had I not mislaid the CD she conscientiously sent off to a challenging French address, I would know a lot less about her.

You may regard that as an interesting example of cause and effect, or a straightforward mea culpa.

In fact, I had listened rather a lot to Bare Foot Folk before it found its hiding place in what I sometimes call my filing system but is, in reality, a jumble of old French newspapers and magazines, dictionaries, print-outs, copies of the Sunderland Echo's football edition, utility bills, tax letters and some of the thousands of CDs that share my home.

It is a treat.

But in order to write about what kind of treat it is, I have had to turn for reminders to the splendid SoundClick pages where Hardy describes and promotes her music, reproduces lyrics and other information and, crucially, offers one-minute samples of each track. I was further led to YouTube and full, sometimes live versions of some of the songs that appear on the album.

Beyond what I found in each place, I know little of her musical background, a function of needing to get quickly up to speed on the present. That brings acquaintance with a fascinating aspect of her work: while Hardy oozes a passion for the melody, imagery and whimsy of English folk music, she actually writes the songs herself, all 14 on this album.

Glancing at the song titles - Young Martha's Well, for example, or Mother Willow Tree, The Ghost on the Moors, The Old Maiden and The Storm Has Now Begun - you'd be forgiven for imagining she had unearthed some old, previously unrecorded ballads. Given her life, as a mother of two young children living close to the Somerset coast, you might suppose she had come across seafaring songs that had somehow been overlooked.

But just as Kate Rusby developed a talent for writing new songs that sounded centuries old, and Seth Lakeman draws inspiration from his own part of the West Country coastline, Hardy demonstrates an understanding of traditional lyricism and applies it to events, emotions and concerns of today.

Sample, from Away With You Lassie:

She waits by the harbour of Babbacombe ol' bay
and she waits for the ol' boat to take her away
she waits for her young man to carry her on
and play for her gently oh the sweetest of songs

Her singing is gentle but compelling and the same might be said of the simple guitar accompaniment. I was at first unsure about the overlayering of her own voice to create harmonies but have come to regard the device as a success. It works outstandingly well on the irresistible shanty,The Storm Has Now Begun, otherwise embellished only by the beat of a bodhran.

I like hearing about Hardy on, or inspired by, matters as diverse as maternal devotion, before and after birth, and Facebook status updates. I sense from listening to and reading her lyrics that she'd be great company, a powerful endorsement in itself.

But modern technology, and Hardy and her husband Rob's grasp of it, means you do not need to take my word for it that this record is a strong and refreshing declaration that, in gifted hands, folk music offers relevance, appeal and, from time to time, innovative but understated flair.

You can make your own minds up by following the links above.

And now, back to the hunt for that CD. I need it in the car as an antidote to Radio Nostalgie, Cherie FM and RTL2.


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