In December 2016, York-based musician Joshua Burnell embarked on a year-long project to release his own arrangement of a traditional folk song every week, reflecting the changing seasons. Now he’s released 14 of his favourite tracks from the series on a new album, Songs From The Seasons.
The album opens with Two Magicians, a Scottish folk song with reworked lyrics by Burnell. It’s a bright, uptempo tune with a lot of energy and Burnell’s vocals have a lovely clarity to them. I was also very impressed with Burnell’s skill at balancing the traditional elements with more modern touches, such as keyboard effects and electric guitar. His empowering lyrics for the song’s female character slotted in perfectly alongside the original lines and shows he has a great understanding of how to tell a story.
This mix of traditional and modern styles continues throughout the record on songs such as the jangly High Germany with its bittersweet final verse. Burnell also isn’t afraid to throw in some surprising stylistic choices, like the almost tropical melody of The Snow It Melts The Soonest, the jagged abrupt stops of Robin Hood And The Pedlar, and the 80s synthesiser-style effects and layers of strings on the shimmering, seductive Reynardine The Werefox. Additionally Burnell does a great job of balancing light melodies with darker lyrics, particularly the atmospheric Mrs McGrath which drip feeds details of the story.
However, for me the standout moments on the album are when Burnell keeps it simple. His gorgeous vocal tone shines on The Dowie Dens Of Yarrow, whilst the arrangement really brings out the emotions of the song and makes it feel detached yet strangely affecting at the same time. Meanwhile, the dreamlike vibes and breathy vocals of Lord Franklin really evoke the stark landscapes of the lyrics, whilst the subdued yet powerful The Nightingale marries delicate piano and lush harmonies with rattling, pulsing guitars.
The final track is Farewell To Tarwathie, an old whaling song which for me sums up the album. It begins with a rich, full acoustic melody balanced by Burnell’s rich, ringing vocals as he sings about leaving his home and friends, then moves into a haunting pipe melody before finishing on an upbeat guitar outro. Despite its gentleness, the song really draws out the sense of setting out on a voyage and stays with you long after it’s over.
Overall I was very impressed with Songs From The Seasons. It’s a fantastic mix of traditional and modern elements and of sung and instrumental numbers (the highlights of the latter being the fast, driving Tam Lin and the dramatic The Banshee Set). Burnell really fills his songs with life and definitely isn’t afraid to experiment. If you like your folk music with a classic rock influence, mystical vibes and a little bit of something different, then I highly recommend this album.
Track listing: 1. Two Magicians 2. Tam Lin 3. High Germany 4. Dowie Dens Of Yarrow 5. Behind The Haystack 6. Robin Hood And The Pedlar 7. The Snow It Melts The Soonest 8. Lord Franklin 9. King Of The Fairies 10. Mrs McGrath 11. Reynardine The Werefox 12. The Banshee Set 13. The Nightingale 14. Farewell To Tarwathie Record label: Misted Valley Records Release date: 4th May 2018