Naomi Bedford – History of Insolence

Local lass Naomi Bedford has been singing her heart out in Brighton and beyond for over a decade now, slowly but surely winning new fans as she continues to branch out from her folk roots background, delving deeperinto the folk of America, while forming new musical alliances, on this second album. You may have seen her perform with Orbital on their Funny Break hit of 2001 but folk and roots is where is her heart truly lies…

With her partner, Paul Simmonds (of The Men They Couldn't Hang), they plotted the idea and themes of the album with the help of strong liquor and a kitchen table. Perhaps the devil's juice had something to do with changing course during their no doubt animated discussion; from an album that would look at love, passion and devotion as the songs lyrical lynchpins, by the end of the evening the tone had turned more political, revolutionary even, with the resultant album featuring 'Songs of Freedom, Dissent & Strife', a work that has strong American folk and country flavours throughout, indicative of Simmonds influence, including the drawn cover artwork which features a rifled and revolutionary young woman, albeit with a flower sticking out of the barrel…

Original compositions – mainly written by Simmonds – dominate the album, although the album opens up with a couple of traditional songs, made over by Bedford and Simmonds. Album opener, Davidson Wilder Blues, is a deceptively upbeat tale written by Tennessee strikebreaking miners in the 30s; it's a cracking, old-timey flavoured start that neatly encapsulates the dual aspects of both their personalities; yes, these are songs of serious stuff but they won't let them be bogged down in the maudlin or the territory of the overwrought. Their spirit is strong and they are going to have some fun expressing it. In other words, they aren't in hoc to the sometimes holier-than-thou folk tradition, instead propelling this and other traditional songs into the 21st century, as evidenced by their updated version of Gyspy Davy: economical mandolin, banjo and back-in-the mix slide guitar, are matched by Bedford's powerful and controlled voice, along with backing vocals courtesy of Del Amitri's Justin Currie. While Gerry Diver, who has been building a fine reputation as an inventive producer and multi-instrumentalist (for the likes of Sam Lee and Tidow & O'Hooley), makes one of several appearances here. Diver also appears on the Simmonds and Bedford penned The Wild & Charming Energy, producing and performing on this track, embellishing the song – ostensibly about abuse – with a slightly comic western vibe…

Simmonds' simple country-blues The Spider and the Wolf features vocalist Jackie Oates on this tale of debt and hardship, before the rich and distinctive voice of Justin Currie shines a light on We Are Not The People, penned by Currie himself, a thoughtful lament for the disenfranchised and dispossessed.

The Men They Couldn't Hang song Overseas – about religious intolerance – is beautifully sung by Bedford, while Raise These Sails could easily be mistaken for a traditional number, Bedford and Simmonds trading verses as they sing about the voyage of the Mayflower, the ship that transported the first 'pilgrims' to the East Coast of America. Diver makes his mark again with some tasteful instrumentation, while Kris Dollimore lends some bluesy guitar to the rousing Junktown but whose subject matter is once again bleak and uncompromising but never pitying. "The only hand out that I can see are the usual hands stealing from me/High street traders, governments and banks/Dipping in my pockets whipping on the flanks/Call it market forces call it robbery down in Junktown" sing Bedford and Simmonds in unison, plainly united by their overriding interest and passion in political, economic and social justice.

They then get their Irish hats on for the upbeat The Old Abandoned Road, albeit a song about the English Civil War, before the brilliant Scots folkie Alasdair Roberts sings and plays on the contemplative The Watchers of the Night, set to lyrics by Tom Maguire.

From start to finish, A History of Insolence… is an eclectic collection of tracks, with folk and roots of all flavours combining together surprisingly well considering the differing guest vocalists, musicians, producers and writers on offer. That this is so is partly to do with the album's themes but also thanks to the wonderful singing of Bedford throughout and the guiding hand of all-rounder Simmonds, whose writing, arranging and playing is never short of tasteful and evocative.

Jeff Hemmings