David Warwick of EDS
reviews The Good Red Earth by Freshly GroundDoug Bailey at WildGoose has an enviable reputation for seeking out fresh new talent, often quirky, rarely boring, eminently listenable-to. This CD ticks all the boxes. Freshly Ground is a community choir from Cheddar inspired by, and led for the past four years by, Issy Emeney (shades of Gareth Malone and TV’s The Choir here?).
Of the 13 tracks, six owe a good deal to her in either words and music, or just the tune. For instance, she finds an original way to bring us Roger Watson’s standard: ‘Watercress O’: almost unrecognisable in this upbeat version. There is inspired and highly accomplished writing in ‘The Last Tommy’, a homage to Harry Patch, Britain’s last surviving First World War soldier. ‘The Would-be Lover’ displays the choir’s excellent harmonies. ‘Princess Caraboo’ is an intriguing tale of false identity, with a theatrical presentation. Of the remaining tracks I loved Sydney Carter’s ‘John Ball’ (always a favourite of mine), the inventive ‘Hey John Barleycorn’ (the enthusiasm of the singers just blasts out) and ‘The Keys of Canterbury’. If I haveany nitpicking reservations, it’s that theoverall presentation lacks the grit, theimmediacy, of a live performance. Witnesstheir version of ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya’,which I first knew from the seminal ClancyBrothers with Tommy Makem disc Hearty and Hellish! They made it raw and edgy,you could feel the sweat in the bar room. Freshly Ground is pleasant listening but clean and pure. You pays your money...
With Doug Bailey at the controls, the choir produced this CD in WildGoose Studios over an intense three-day period, using only a crossed pair of Earthworks microphones. Hence, as the accompanying leaflet says, ‘making the opportunity for overdubs pretty much impossible’. Issy Emeney has been around the folk scene for some 15 years, and is obviously a name to look out for. I look forward to hearing future productions of hers… where more mics are available!