30CD - Army of Briars
Folk prog in the classic tradition - Keith Jafrate's words with music by Tim Cole, sung by Julie Cole, and with adventurous arrangements by Martin Archer.
This CD has been a long time in the making. Tim and Julie Cole have worked as a duo on the folk scene for many years, and for almost as long we have talked about making a CD together which would hopefully add something to the amazing tradition of maverick British folk music, and which would be able to include some elements from my own electronic methodology.
Neither Tim, Julie or I are lyric writers, so the project remained theoretical for a number of years. Finally. the catalyst was my meeting with poet / musician Keith Jafrate, where I realised that his adventurous work was also aesthetically perfect for the project we had in mind.
Keith took some of his recent poems, added some new pieces, and presented us with a coherent cycle of work to set whose highly personal imagery gives the CD a very strong sense of unity and purpose.
Tim's songs are complex and highly musicianly, sitting inside the wider tradition of pioneering work by greats such as Pentangle, John Martyn, Nick Drake, and giving me plenty of scope to work on adventurous arrangements which are centred on dark woodwinds plus a range of "classic" keyboards such as mellotron, Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ which hopefully carry both a allusion to the history of this tradition, plus an occasional pointer to the future. I managed even to get in the odd bit of Faust and Stockhausen, though not too much!
Of course, all of this would be meaningless without Julie's fantastically pure haunting and keening vocal which centres the works, and gives them the timeless quality we were looking for.
Tim Cole - Guitar, keys
Julie Cole - Voice
Keith Jafrate -Words
Martin Archer - Woodwind, keys,laptop
"This is a pretty fantastic treat. First of all, the CD is beautifully packaged, in a well designed gatefold case with a fully illustrated booklet of lyrics. Secondly, this is a dramatically adventurous album of folk music, immediately setting itself apart from the majority of other albums reviewed here, and unfolding rewardingly with repeated listens. An unlikely collaboration between a husband and wife folk duo, an avant-garde electronics composer and a poet, despite the seriousness of its origins the album happily comes together in a way that is generally accessible and highly enjoyable. The starting point for each song is the poetry of Keith Jafrate, largely focussed on nature and filled with dramatic and powerful imagery, which is set to music by Tim Cole and given life by the striking voice of his wife Julie Cole. For me, however, it's the arrangements of composer Martin Archer that set this project alight. Many songs are given great warmth and character by his excellent performances on a variety of woodwind instruments, sometimes on overlaid and intertwining parts. His imaginative arrangement of traditional instruments is sometimes reminiscent of Nick Drake, and the clever use of classic keyboards projects a song like "Hunting stone and light" into something you might be unsurprised to find on a Pram album. Similar electronic interventions cut a thunderous swathe through "I travelled north to hide", the song closing with an otherworldly, unsettling spoken word section in their wake. His talents even stretch to conducting a brass band from his sofa, for the more optimistic (at least until its final organ drone) "On nine barrow down". Whether you're a folk aficionado or you've always felt safer in avoiding its unfamiliar waters, Army of Briars offers a beautiful opportunity to broaden your musical horizons" - Rob Chimes, Sandman
"Over the years, I’ve become weaned on expecting the unexpected from this avant-garde U.K.-based record label. The Army of Briars is an utterly delightful and modernized spin on British folk music. Furthering time-honored concepts set forth by Pentangle and other eminent British folk entities, this outing presents Keith Jafrates’ dream-swept lyrics, with vocals by Julie and Tim Cole. However, instrumentalists performing electric bass, violin, bass flute, laptops and a brass quintet provide the contemporary edge here.
Cole’s angelic vocalizations are supplanted by subtle hints of world music and effects-driven existential backdrops, yet each piece carries its weight via divergent aspects. But nothing gets out of hand or becomes orchestrated into oblivion, with the brass quintet enamoring a blissful musical terrain on “A Lesson.” While saxophonist/keyboardist Martin Archer adorns some of these works with silvery linings, the inherent attributes of this program vary slightly. Tim Cole, on guitar and keyboards, also engages in beautiful harmonies with his better-half, atop various underpinnings. The ensemble also incorporates subliminal aspects of classic progressive rock into its stately themes. Chalk it all up to a sequence of compositions that rather uncannily morph into a wondrously envisioned project which makes uncommonly perfect sense." - Glenn Astarita, All About Jazz
"Beautiful, genuine folk" - Freenoise
"Little touches of Henry Cow and early Robert Wyatt.....not for everyone, but those who get it will find a lot of depth to warrant repeated listenings" - Chris Nickson, Stirrings
"Attention grabbing, if not always easily digested....slightly un-nerving (and) drama tinged,,,,," - Sheffield Star
Army Of Briars is a group in the “tradition” of maverick British experimental, or wyrd-, folk; it’s a given, therefore, that the music it produces will be genuinely avant-garde, both strange and wonderful, challenging yet intensely rewarding – so don’t expect an easy ride. Sheffield-based Tim and Julie Cole have worked as a duo on the folk scene for many years (yet have only just released their first CD, Sea Longing); for some time been they’ve been interested in the work of their good friend, local electronic-experimental composer and wind musician Martin Archer; around four years ago, a meeting between Martin and poet/musician Keith Jafrate produced the catalyst for a collaborative project between the four. Keith presented the group with a coherent cycle of poems, set to some highly personal imagery, which could be set to music by Tim to arrangements involving himself and Martin, and sung by Julie. And all these (what might seem disparate) elements come together in a unified whole on this album, which appeared back in 2007 but has only just come my way. It’s a very special record, with a (quite literally) unique musical character that, while audibly referencing the traditions of maverick folk, is very – very – different to anything else you’ll have heard, that I guarantee. The undisputed natural focus of Army Of Briars’ music is Julie’s magnificent voice, stunningly pure and possessing the ability to unerringly pierce through any texture you could throw its way. Think Jacqui McShee especially, possibly also Judy Dyble, a vocal apparatus that’s to-the-manner-born rather than mannered or in any way precious, and armed with a fabulous facility and flexibility, able to cope with all manner of weird and unpredictable melody lines and shifts but also sing straight as a dye, with a vocal control that fair leaves the listener speechless and always seriously enraptured. The musical backdrop consists of delicately contoured and gently forthright guitar lines, embellished and cocooned by dark woodwinds, spectral reeds and “classic” (mellotron, Fender Rhodes and Hammond) keyboard textures with more than a hint of creative electronica. The latter element betrays a distinct influence from pioneers such as Faust and early-Stockhausen, while some of the sound-world can recall late-60s bands as diverse as King Crimson, Soft Machine, Gong/Steve Hillage, early Family, Henry Cow and White Noise, even at times recalling the adventures of Mike Oldfield), while the folkier side of Army Of Briars’ invention takes its cue from the mildly-extended song forms and poetic excursions of the Incredible String Band, some of the more obscure work of Pentangle, Comus or Principal Edwards, and looking further ahead, Sharron Kraus, Mary Hampton, Emily Portman (and perhaps even some recent nu-folk acts such as The Memory Band and artists from the Rif Mountain stable) – but Army Of Briars can be seen as more radical, by a long way, than the majority of these latter-day exponents of experimental, wyrd- and acid-folk. It’s the special combination of the haunting and ear-catching quality of Julie’s voice, the piquant imagery of Keith’s poetry and the warm, enveloping character of Martin’s arrangements with their supremely inventive, ever-morphing textures that, though composed, seem at times almost to respond organically to the texts as they’re being sung – although the effect is far from episodic. Take the first song in the sequence, To Fall, a kind of elemental hymnal (at first recalling Mike Heron’s sublime Air, later the dreamy ambience of Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd) which is underpinned by an itchy, restless percussive motif – and all in the space of just under two-and-a-half minutes. The gently enigmatic Four Riddles (possibly the song most akin to traditional in pure sound terms) is followed by the eerie, spacey-doomy invocation of Mist On The Barrows, while the cautiously jazzy portrait of The Deep Park functions as an introit for the multi-dimensional economy of scale that is A Lesson. The chilling Who But I Ate The Fruit Of Your Lips brings the aura of a scaled-down Trembling Bells (or Owl Service), while I Travelled North To Hide perhaps most closely approximates one of the epic ISB journey-songs (though in the space of just four minutes) and On Nine Barrow Down (sung by Tim) is a potent vision with a slight gospel feel and festooned with an echoey brass quintet and strange shifting perspectives. Where The Blue Goes Dark And Birdless radiates an aura of desperate beauty, and the cycle then closes in the confident mystic glow of Gatherer Of Excited Moons. The accompanying booklet, by the way, is a work of art, with simple but effective illustrations by Julie’s daughter Helen and full texts of the poems. Yes, Army Of Briars can be taken as a thorny proposition (literally!) – but do stick with it, for the rewards are immense - David Kidman, Stirrings
Die Army of Briars (Armee der Dornbüsche?) sind (waren) das Ehepaar Cole, das offenbar schon seit den 80er Jahren des letzten Jahrhunderts als Folkduo tätig ist, der für die Texte zuständige Musiker und Dichter Keith Jafrate und der Multiinstrumentalist und Klangbastler Martin Archer (Combat Astronomy, Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, Transient v Resident). Offenbar kannte man sich untereinander schon ewig und wollte seit Langem gemeinsam ein Album einspielen. Zwischen 2005 und 2007 konnte das dann zusammen mit einigen Gastmusikern verwirklicht und 2007 auf Archers Discus Label veröffentlicht werden.
"Folk prog in the classic tradition" gibt es auf "Army of Briars" zu hören, wie man auf der Internetpräsenz des Labels nachlesen kann. Weiter schreibt Archer dort, dass man "something to the amazing tradition of maverick British folk music" hinzufügen wollte und dass er zudem um "some elements from my own electronic methodology" ergänzt hätte. Und so klingt die Scheibe auch. Vertrackte britische (von Tim Cole komponierte) Folksongs, getragen vom glasklaren Sopran Julie Coles, treffen auf Martin Archers Klangbasteleien, auf Canterbury-Artiges, Minimalistisches, Krautiges, Retrotastensounds und Elektronisches.
Das klangliche Ergebnis klingt dann fast so, als hätten Steeleye Span oder Pentangle zusammen mit Soft Machine und Faust ein Album aufgenommen (das irgendwie in die Neuzeit geraten ist und neu abgemischt, überarbeitet und druckvoll produziert wurde), wobei sich die "Jazz-Kraut-Elektro-Rocker" doch sehr zurückhalten und sich aufs Verzieren und Untermalen der Folksongs konzentrieren. Klar im Zentrum von "Army of Briars" stehen nämlich die vom wunderbaren Gesang Julie Coles und oft einer Akustikgitarre bestimmten medieval-folkigen Songs. Dazu wabern allerlei Sounds durchs Klangbild, Elektronisch-Verfremdetes und Minimalistisch-Canterburyartiges, erklingt bisweilen ein Mellotron, vor allem aber Fender Rhodes und Hammond, dann noch zurückhaltende Holz- bzw. Blechbläser, Flötenklänge, bearbeitet Violinensounds, Bass und allerlei Klang- und Sprachfetzen. Perkussives fehlt dagegen ganz.
So wild und schräg wie man nach meiner unzulänglichen Beschreibung schließen könnte klingt "Army of Briars" dann aber gar nicht. Die Scheibe bietet ein doch recht melodisches, sehr dichtes und homogene, bisweilen auch deutlich angedüsterte (man hoere z.B. "Mist of the barrows" oder das grandiose "I travelled north to hide") Sammlung an "interessant", auf jeden Fall ungewöhnlich instrumentierten Folksongs, die sehr eindringlich und intensiv, mitunter auch zart und zerbrechlich aus den Boxen gleiten. Wer Britisch-Folkiges in einem progressiv-avantgardistischen Gewand (kein Polka-Schräg-Kammerrock - das hier Gebotene ist recht zurückhaltend und verträumt und klingt eher nach Mittelalter und englischer Heidelandschaft) schätzt, der sollte "Army of Briars" auf keinen Fall verpassen! - Achim Breiling, BABYBLAUE