Sam Lee – Ground Of Its Own (The Nest Collective/ 2012)
By Clare Lowe
Sam Lee has done his research. After travelling up and down the country talking to Scottish, Irish and English gypsy and traveller communities he put together this collection of folk inspired songs. Each track on his debut album, Ground Of Its Own, is a new take on a traditional song with beautifully crafted modern twists and the result is a fantastical journey through these communities’ folk history.
Lee has made a name for himself on the British folk scene as a founder of The Nest Collective with fellow musician Joe Buirski. The Nest Collective is a club born from the lack of opportunity to hear folk in London. They are passionate about bringing the new folk sound to music fans by putting on events and festivals that make the audience part of the show and create an intimate atmosphere, however large the event.
This album is a showcase of new and ancient sounds melded together to make something fresh that still feels traditional. Throughout the album, strange and exciting instruments are used to create this echoey, evocative soundscape. Hammer dulcimers join the traditional fiddle and cello, along with hang drums and Jew’s harps, taking further influence from some of the cultures Lee visited and embracing a multi-cultural attitude to the usually strict confines of English folk. A key instrument throughout the album is a shruti box. This Indian shruti box sounds a drone that gives depth and atmosphere to each song in which it is used.
‘The Ballad of George Collins’ opens the album. It’s a morbid tale of death and there’s a dark undertone to it. The ballad mixes Lee’s traditional folky voice with the droning undertones of the alien-sounding shruti box that brings an unusual texture to the folk tale.
A particular highlight on this album is ‘Northlands,’ a tale of one woman’s experiences of betrayal and survival. It is a haunting tune, with just Lee’s voice, the twang of the Jew’s harp and the tribal beat of a hang drum that evokes the feeling of a mixture of fear and excitement of a story told around a fire in the cold English countryside.
The only criticism I have of this album is on some of the tracks Lee’s voice could be lower in the mix to make the songs more harmonious and haunting. Also some of the more intricate instrumental compositions are lost because of this. That said, through most of the album it’s beautifully mixed and has a live feel about it, which creates a much more engaging sound.
This is a highly impressive album and perfectly showcases where British folk is going: back to our roots using new techniques and instruments to enhance the soundscape for a modern audience.