THERE’S a brace of bold debuts from wildly talented musicians to enthuse about this month, kicking off with Alice Jones’s Poor Strange Girl (Splid Records).
To hear Jones open her mouth — and she has a rich, earthy voice not a million miles from her fellow Yorkshirewoman Fay Hield — you might assume, correctly, that she was raised from the cradle in the English tradition.
But this playful transatlantic collage quickly makes it clear she’s equally at home with American folk.
It ranges from the ancient murder ballad The Cruel Mother — given a spectral edge by Jones’s harmonium and skilled fiddler Tom Kitching — to the first world war standard Long, Long Trail A-Winding via the Appalachian tearjerker Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still.
Clear, simple arrangements give Jones the space to show she has the rare knack of the great folk artist — getting so directly to the heart of the matter that it’s as if she lived inside every song, while still conveying something much older and deeper than any one singer.
A tremendous debut from a singer with great things ahead. Gillian Frame was honoured as BBC Alba’s young Scottish traditional musician of the year way back in 2001 but has somehow taken 15 years to make her solo debut with Pendulum (Cheery Groove).
She’s clearly been hard at work, though, collecting songs and collaborators while lending her voice and fiddle to all sorts of projects down the years. And if this album took longer to mature than a decent whisky, it too is worth the wait.
Frame’s delicate vocals are well supported by subtle and occasionally soaring widescreen arrangements, as on the traditional Ayrshire love song Echo Mocks the Corncrake.
At others, they’re driving and relentless. Rothes Colliery, the ballad of a doomed coalmine and Fine Flooers, a Scottish version of The Cruel Mother, are standouts on a richly accomplished record with barely a weak spot.
Here’s hoping the next one takes a lot less than 15 years. Way over at the “wildly unconventional” end of the folk spectrum are Solarference, a duo who rework traditional songs using laptops, loops and samples of anything from beatboxing to bicycle bells to musical saws.
Locks & Bolts (solarference.bandcamp.com), recorded live in Bristol, takes “freedom” as its loose theme — freedom from war, wage slavery and poverty as well as from prison walls. Atmospheric and inventive, these songs build a thoroughly modern edifice on the ageless core of two fine voices entwined in harmony.
Among other standout releases this month, the six-piece instrumental group Bonfire Radicals will appeal to fans of high-octane dance tunes.
Their debut The Albino Peacock (Burning Bones) throws together an eclectic bunch of instruments and influences from all over the world to make an energetic musical mash that probably sounds even more irresistible live than it does on record.