Bards and minstrels have been traveling the world for centuries, telling tales of the times gone by and heroes that could not be forgotten. Their art of storytelling by music has captivated people for generations, and even in the century of technology and progress, there is something soothing and comforting about folk music. The British trio Lady Maisery combines vocal harmonies and basic accompaniment of the fiddle, harp and accordion to create a sound that is simple and traditional, but still fascinating and beautiful.
The trio comprises three accomplished musicians, Hannah James, Hazel Askew and Rowan Rheingans. Although their first album Weave and Spin was released just in 2011, the group has already collected a number of award nominations and critical acclaim. And with their newly released record, Mayday, they might just be on track to more accolades.
There are many meanings to the album title, and its content reflects that. The renditions of modern and traditional songs tell stories of struggle and hope. As a warning call, Mayday provides a commentary on social problems, but the title also carries political associations. Songs like the a cappella rendition of Leon Rosselson’s Palaces of Gold or the gloomy and emotional version of The Crow on the Cradle, draw heavily on these themes. And yet, the record also means to bring a feeling of joy an hope one may feel on a sunny day in May, and with its traditional sounds and beautiful vocals, it certainly accomplishes that.
The trio has become known for the interesting musical arrangements. Indeed, there is some bold and expert musicianship to be experienced here. Lady Maisery expertly tackles a cappella pieces – even when they don’t contain any words – such as Constant Billy/ The Lie of the Land. One of the star – albeit rather dark – pieces on the album, Lady Maisry, also receives the a cappella treatment – and at around six and a half minutes, the group deserves credit for their amazing skills and flawless dynamic as a group.
The instruments are used sparsely on this album, to create a backdrop to the lyrics. But they can also reinforce the feel of the song. In the ballad of The Grey Selkie, the violin creates an atmosphere of longing, but the contrasting sound of the harp brings a glimmer of sunlight to the sad song. Similarly in a beautiful cover of This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush, the vocals drive the song forward but the violin adds important dynamic to the chorus.
Mayday is in such a stark contrast to many recent releases. The basic arrangement of traditional songs brings to the fore the stories they tell. With no need for electronics, elaborate instrumentation or loud volume, this record grabs the listener’s attention with its simplicity.
Every now and then, it’s important to slow down and think about what really matters, and this record makes it happen. You can learn more about how the group create their captivating sound via their website or Facebook page. Mayday is out now, so order it from iTunes, Amazon or RootBeat Records.
Written by Natalia Gronowska
OurVinyl | Contributor