Release date: March 9th 2015
The Static Brothers are chuffed to be handed the astonishing new album by our friends in Manchester, The Woodbine & Ivy Band. This beauty pushes on from the excellently received self-titled debut in 2011. Their line-up again features a wealth of Manchester’s finest musicians capturing a magical folk oeuvre flecked with psych, prog, jazz and country rock. Partly inspired by G.I. Gurdjieff’s theories on what he termed “waking sleep”, this collection of ten tracks sounds appropriately out of step and out of time, as if the product of an off-kilter dream; of instinct or the subconscious
Where their debut drew comprehensively on folk tradition, earning glittering reviews and favourable comparisons with the likes of Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention and Crazy Horse along the way, this latest outing pulls in a different direction. Alongside three trad folk songs and three covers, there are four original compositions too. The beauty of the Woodbine & Ivy Band’s approach is in making these disparate songs appear genuinely timeless, sounding both steeped in careworn tradition yet also fresh and invigorated. For the first album they worked with a different singer for each song, but here all vocal duties are taken care of by two highly contrasting singers - the soft, amorphous voice of Jenny McCormick and the coarser tones of James Raynard.
The rich and varied elements of ‘Sleep On Sleeping On’ are as bold and colourful as its evocative cover artwork, by Anna Wilson-Hall. The album is indebted to British folk classics, with touchstones such as the Albion Band’s ‘Rise Up Like the Sun’ and Lal & Mike Waterson’s ‘Bright Phoebus’, but that pedigree is augmented by gracefully textured arrangements which introduce pedal steel, horns, drones and glissandos, along with pastoral synth washes like a Klaus Schulze soundtrack for a film about allotments.
From the woozy, ethereal title track to the gorgeously plaintive folk rock of ‘Arm a Nation’, ‘Jackdaws’ and ‘Pretty Fly Lullaby’, they conjure forgotten memories from sparse instrumentation and, on the latter, Morricone-esque harmonies. Meanwhile, the gentle guitar melody of ‘Old Man’ recalls Bert Jansch, and Lal Waterson’s ‘Flight of the Pelican’ is similarly stripped down and eerie. ‘White Hare’ imagines swirling organ, rousing horns, heavy piano chords and crunching, fuzzy guitars, and ‘One Summer Day’ is a psych-fuelled state; a dizzying fever of a groove which sounds like Popol Vuh, Stereolab and Steely Dan jamming in a community sewing centre.
The centerpiece of the record is ‘The Minstrel and the King’, written by Gerald T. Moore and originally performed by Heron on their second album. Here, it’s a nine-minute, piano-led tour de force with mournful horns, saxophone solo and an extended coda, dripping with melancholy but oddly euphoric with its insistent melody and unerring rhythm. Equally poignant is the closing track ‘Rebel Soldier’, an American Civil War song re-wired here as a hauntingly fragile, piano-led lament underscored by horns and twanging guitar.
These songs were forged under a northern sky of unkempt memories and half-imagined thoughts from beyond consciousness, and bathed in an expansive folk idiom. It’s an extraordinary companion piece to their brilliant debut.
The line-up includes: Jenny McCormick, James Raynard, Luke Das-Gupta, Mike Doward, John Ellis, Gus Fairbairn, Rachael Gladwin, Chris Hillman, Peter Philipson, Tom Rydeard, Raz Ullah, David A. Jaycock, Ian Budgie Jones, Sam Lench and Anna Zweck.
"The big band line up (which includes a Hammond organ, Rickenbacker 12 string, harp, saxophone and the regular rock stuff) guarantees a highly varied disc; not everyone plays on every track, I think, but when the whole band is up there they sure have a great big orchestral rock sound. A great CD all around." [Vital Weekly]