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Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker - Seedlings All

Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – Seedlings All

Following on from the release of their Rough Trade debut Overnight, the former BBC 2 Folk Duo award winners of 2015, continue their musical progression with Seedlings All, an album of all originals, and not a folk song in sight (at least not in the traditional sense).

However, despite the glowing reviews for both Overnight and their brilliant singing and guitar playing combination, the pair have perhaps not had the success they deserve. Indeed, the gentle orchestral-pop opening track 'Chicago' is about their experiences of playing in the windy city, where NO ONE showed up. "It's lucky I learned young / You've got to turn the other cheek / I knew before I had begun / and have to earn the right to speak", sings Clarke, displaying the necessary stoicism and positive long-term outlook ("Make peace with failure") to potentially forge a career in this most difficult of paying-the-bills industries.

There's also a steady streak of melancholism throughout Seedlings All. Clarke thinks of herself as a 'harbinger of melancholy', and allied to an album's worth of self-examining songs, there is a danger that things can get a bit heavy. Thankfully, as with 'Chicago', and despite the intense and vulnerable auto-biographical nature of her songs, there is enough light to lift the gloom. Moreover, Walker's exquisite, eclectic, tasteful and controlled guitar playing is a perfect compliment to the simply beautiful voice of Clarke, who also tends to underplay it. Less is more with Seedlings All, and all done with a full band that also includes Ruth Goller on bass, James Madden on drums, and Kit Downes on keys.

The lightness of touch is evident on the ethereal, chiming layers of 'Bells Ring' - which bears a resemblance to the work of This is The Kit's Kate Stables - a love song in essence, and which swells like love always does, Clarke providing a little bit of late-song sax to the mix. The title track itself is also a gentle musical foray, using double bass, light-touch drums, piano, strings and some clarinet from Clarke, while 'Maybe I Won't' is a piano-based ballad that incorporates the traditional nursery rhyme ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’; a deeply personal song about having/not having children.

A late night jazz-lounge vibe infuses the glowing grooves of 'Tender Heart', another song about love ("It's just your tender heart, pumping the blood around my body"), while the Americana sound of 'All is Myth' is just voice, acoustic guitar and harmonium. Here, Clarke’s voice both soars and whispers on this spacious song that is but another example of her brilliantly concise way with words, that steer well away from obfuscation: "All is myth / I feel with my hands / I don't trust my eyes, they lie / And so do my ears".

And so the seeds are scattered throughout; with the gently reverb-doused 'Ghost Light', double bass and drums adding weight in supporting the expressive piano, and 'Sad Day', a summation of Clarke's duality, innate melancholism and uber-realism, mixed with a dash of dreaming, all chemically whirring around Clarke's: "Heavy heart".

Final track 'Only Me Only' is the closest we get to a folk song, in tone and delivery from a duo who are rather misrepresented as folkies, I'm sure to their exasperation. Rather, Clarke and Walker deal in classical balladry with a pop edge here and there. It's all tinged with a melancholy hue that nevertheless speaks of their optimistic, life-affirming spirit.

Jeff Hemmings

Website: josienneandben.com
Facebook: facebook.com/josienneclarkeandbenwalker
Twitter: twitter.com/josienneandben

 


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