sat 20/07/2024

Album: Naomi Bedford & Paul Simmonds - Strange News Has Come to Town | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Naomi Bedford & Paul Simmonds - Strange News Has Come to Town

Album: Naomi Bedford & Paul Simmonds - Strange News Has Come to Town

A long time coming - but well worth the wait

Bedford and Simmonds: beautifully crafted

Almost exactly five years ago, I was transported by Singing It All Back Home, the third album from Naomi Bedford and Paul Simmonds. I gave it four stars, which in retrospect was perhaps a little ungenerous. Now at last comes a new opus from the duo, Strange News Has Come to Town, the making of which was “a long march across hard ground”, obstacles including the pandemic, as well as personal health and money issues.

The self-drive of 21st century music-making makes “entry” into the world seem superficially easy but recording is only the first tiny step. Getting the music out there, reaching the ears and the hands of people who might actually buy it – and preferably not via a miserly streaming service – is another matter entirely. The “hard travelling” of the children of Woody and Pete was just a metaphor – now the road is tough once more and it requires not only dedication but skilful navigation. But as Bedford sings on the opening track, “I try to be an optimist.”

Bedford and Simmonds don’t disappoint, for the album is full of splendid songs and gorgeous harmonies, Bedford’s voice always well to the fore, and fine instrumental work, including Simmonds’ guitar and mandolin, Beford’s Appalachian dulcimer, and Scott Smith’s harmonica and banjo. There are hints of the McGarrigles, and of Roses in the Snow-era Emmylou Harris, and of the two Trio albums Harris recorded with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt (if you don’t have them, seek them out). Simmonds is a wonderful writer, his work running the gamut from narrative songs drawn from the headlines to surrealist visions – and occasionally both, as in the Covid-induced “I’ve Got a Fever”.

Indeed, to me this is an album that sounds as if it has come out of America, even though Bedford herself sounds very English and several of the songs have specifically English references – “Haunted River” the Medway and the Temeraire for example. That doubtless reflects my predilection (from my earliest excursions into folk music) for American musicians over Britain’s own, and also the duo’s own immersion in the sounds of Appalachia. In any event, I’m sure they’d be welcome on many a US festival stage.

It's a beautifully paced album, the exquisitely mournful “Haunted River” giving way to “Lewiston Country Girls”, light and upbeat as a factory worker prepares to return to her native north-west Canada. That traditional number is followed by “Asylum”, a Simmonds original which begins on the beaches of Normandy, once celebrated as the start of liberation and here as the beginning of a journey to death (“Three got to sink so one can float”), or in this case to Napier Barracks in Kent. It’s an understated yet powerful song, up there with Richard Shindell’s “Fishing” about the hapless Mexican migrants in California, or David Massengill’s “Great American Dream”, a magnificent song about the universality of those seeking a better life. 

It's a line from “A Blacksmith Courted Me” that gives the album its title. Collected in Herefordshire by Vaughan-Williams early last century, the ballad is in the celebrated Roud Folk Song Index, so we are here deep into English folk music. Over the years it’s been covered by Planxty and Steeleye Span, as well as Shirley Collins (a great cheerleader for Bedford and Simmonds) and Barbara Dickson. Bedford’s keening voice rings out over a strummed guitar behind which an electric guitar echoes and wails. A performance that gets right under your skin.

“The Lapwing’s Call”, a Bedford-Simmonds song, brings the album to a glorious and serene conclusion and an acknowledgment that however tough the times there’s always something to raise the spirits.

Liz Thomson's website

Bedford and Simmonds don’t disappoint, for the album is full of splendid songs and gorgeous harmonies

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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