• James Harvey

Album Review - Ballads and Yarns - Roly Witherow - 2020

Ballads and Yarns - Roly Witherow

Roly Witherow, best known for his work as a music composer for the film and television industry, describes his forthcoming album as “a personal exploration of the folk tradition”. An 8 track debut album, consisting of traditional songs, sea shanties (we need more people doing this please!) and originals.

Kicking the album off with ‘Foreword’ you quickly find out, that while Roly Witherow, maybe exploring the past, he isn’t living in it. Bordering on progressive psychedelic folk, he immediately grabs your attention and sets off on a trip that will hold it to the end.

We then have 'Lord Franklin’ also known as ‘Lady Franklin's Lament’ or ‘The Sailor’s Dream’, written around 1850 and remaining basically unchanged down the years, ‘Witherow’ manages to mix that long-standing traditional sound with his own contemporary one. I’m pleased to say the end result works really well, opening up the tale to a new generation who maybe aren’t learning the older songs, risking their loss, simply because they dislike the old sound.

© Roly Witherow

Wedding Songs’ is a more experimentally progressive track than the others, almost at home with something by the mighty Pink Floyd. The end result is a journey into a world lost in time, yet somehow, strangely, futuristic.

Row Bullies Row’ (you may know it as: Liverpool Judies), continues with the style of modernising the old. Not in a throwaway style but in an interesting, refreshing way. It really makes you listen to what is being sung and, in doing so, creates an image of a modern urban-scape, rather than dusty old streets, unrelatable and unrecognisable to not only this, but future generations. ‘Carousel Instrumental’ takes a slightly haunted look at the classic carousel music once heard at fairgrounds and seaside amusements in the summer months.

Ow Bist Satan?’ does something I haven’t heard on a folk album in many years, it’s a spoken word tale. Witherow, described this album as a (personal) exploration of folk. The folk traditions of old, were songs, stories and news from across the realm, something being lost in modern folk. Not so much in certain parts of the USA, where they do like to tell the origins of their songs, but here in the UK, there are very few bards preserving this part of our aural heritage and it’s a crying shame; hopefully this album will inspire others to keep it alive.

© Roly Witherow

Derry Gaol’ is the most traditional sounding tale on the album, with its stripped-down sound, strong bass and haunting vocals. ‘Paean to Earthly Things’ rounds the album off with a more present-day folk sound, completing the journey from the past to now, leaving us with plenty to think about.

Roly Witherows', debut album is as much a visual experience as it is an audio one. It is a unique personal look at what folk is and means, old as well as new. The stories he has to share, are told in such a commanding way, it will grab your attention throughout and ultimately leaves you rewarded.

Folk as a genre, covers so many different styles and means so very many different things to people of all cultures across the world, it’s purpose as a story driven genre can become mediocre and cliched if left to settle into a trend, or if accepted as the norm. Roly Witherows' debut ‘Ballads and Yarns’ brings a fresh progressive style to the genre, sure it will ruffle a few feathers from the traditionalist, but it really is worth it.

Ballads and Yarns is released on the 8 May 2020. For more information have a trip to his website here.

© Roly Witherow

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