Published on June 20th, 2016 | by Mike Ainscoe0
Alice Jones – ‘Poor Strange Girl’ Review
Splid Records SPLIDCD017
Hope the choice of title isn’t one which describes Alice. Probably not. A multi-talented multi-tasker, she could be found involved in anything from Appalachian and longsword dancing to playing keyboards, clarinet and tenor guitar, to working with folk legend Pete Coe in exploring the works of Leeds based song collector Frank Kidson.
On the back of all manner of compliments from the likes of the heavyweight folk critics at fRoots, R2 and of course Mike Harding, her debut album must be worth a closer look, especially as there are connections with the Bandwagon home of Pure FM in Stockport – read on. As well as her own musical prowess, she’s enlisted the aid of The Whiskey Priests’, Hugh Bradley (from the mists of time I seem to recall the whiskey priest being a character from Graham Greene’s ‘The Power And The Glory’) and local band, Pilgrims’ Way’s, Tom Kitching on fiddle (local to us Stockport that is).
The origin of the songs sees Alice drawing largely on the traditional and arranging in her own inimitable style. For it is in a distinctive style too, although pay due attention, as you might now and again fall into the trap of thinking someone has slipped an O’Hooley & Tidow CD into the wrong case, or the CD player has gone onto random play. That Yorkshire brogue does sound very familiar – particularly when she sings of being far away from “herme” or feeling “alerne”, a theme which crops up on the title track which opens the album and on occasion for the next hour. Putting God’s own country spin on American and English folk songs, singing in her own voice, her own accent is a positive strength in delivering folk song and like the cream that rises to the top, there are some wonderfully modest yet expressive songs. The sound of the harmonium adds nice depth in layers of textures and drones to some of the songs yet it’s the simpler piano based ones that standout as the highlights of the album. ‘Woody Knows Nothing’ makes an immediate impression, a chronicle of the fragility of love while, ‘Green Bushes’ appears more controversially by turning the tables with a female philanderer in the lead role. For the record and local interest, it’s a song collected from Mrs Holt of Meanwood who recalled the song “being sung in Stockport in about 1838”. They act as just a taster for the mid album peak.
‘Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still’ literally is the centre piece. Lifted from the Frank and Anne Warner collection and placed bang in the middle of the album. Within about four or five seconds you sense you’re in for a ride on a tide of emotion. Sensitive and intimate yet bold and combined with the following, ‘When I’m Far Away’ from the Frank Kidson songbook, it’s a potent piece of sequencing. Alice Jones’ debut at its best with a pair of songs which are simply classic cases of the old maxim of less is more.
The odd tune set punctuates the narratives; you get a taste of Alice’s whistle playing on ‘Wedding Mazurkas’, and there’s a nice Flook-y style reel which is all very organic, straight from the greenwood and conjuring up images of merry men frolicking in medieval England. Musically, it allows the Kitching fiddle some space to work, and he makes an early mark on the title track, one of, if not the most dynamic pieces on the album.
‘Green Bushes’ and the acoustic guitar combo and harmonium combine in the excellent, ‘The Castle By The Sea’, both offering stories in which the female protagonist comes out on top and get to chalk up one for the sisterhood – what in more modern times might have been called ‘girl power’. Quite apt actually as Alice Jones can justifiably add her name to a growing list who can be found shaking their fists for folk girl power.
You can watch Alice play ‘A Sprig Of Thyme’ from her work with Pete Coe ‘The Search For Five Finger Frank’ here:
She can also be found online at www.alicejonesmusic.com/