JIM MORAY: UPCETERA
Released 30th September
Jim Moray’s first full length album, ‘Sweet England’ earned Album of the Year status in the 2004 Radio 2 Folk Awards with its fresh and refreshing take on traditional material. In the intervening twelve years he’s continued to pursue new and inventive ways of interpreting traditional folk song. Four years on from ‘Skulk’, another celebrated work, the experimentations with his solo work and that of False Lights, the band he fronts with Sam Carter, has paved the way for what could be the jewel in the Moray crown.
The Jim Moray way of describing the genre in which he belongs remains constant – while rooted in the tradition, he’s not a traditional folk singer, but someone who embraces June Tabor, Jeff Buckley and The Blue Nile – and that’s what feeds ‘Upcetera’. It’s a record that started life as an album of Child Ballads – following on from the superb ‘Lord Douglas’ on the last album – but gradually widened to cover other songs that tell a story or paint a picture. Eight traditional songs and two originals, drenched in a dramatic orchestration which elevates the material into uplifting and soaring epics.
He’s explored use of orchestration in the past, on his eponymous second album and he might namecheck Cecil Sharp, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, Benjamin Britten and Ewan MacColl , yet it’s pure Jim Moray – his soft and familiarly friendly tones a perfect match for the lushness which saturates the songs. It’s not all expansive strings – there are times when he reins things in and sets up arrangements which are less elaborate yet retain the intricacy and the considerate delivery which is Jim Moray’s stock in trade.
Kicking off with an ‘oldie’, originating in 1411… ’Fair Margaret And Sweet William’ and its story of tragic love, it sets the scene by absolutely nailing the combination of melody and orchestration. The gathering of traditional tunes and words and placing into a new framework isn’t a new idea yet not it’s never been done with this sort of aplomb. ‘Another Man’s Wedding’ proves more stately and gracious – yet mid album, the pace switches with a pair of self penned songs, interestingly inspired by writers published over 400 years apart – Dr John Dee, advisor to Elizabeth I, and Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan who worked on the golden record aboard the Voyager I and II spacecraft. – ‘The Straight Line And The Curve’ based round a simple dignified piano and the acoustic launch of
‘Sounds Of The Earth’ deliberating over the music of the Earth and space; the gold record placed on the Voyagers as a record of our existence, launched like a futuristic message in a bottle. A beautifully crafted wistful and dreamy acoustic piece which as the words say, is one which will “let me travel to the stars.” Spanning the centuries and anticipating the future – some might say cosmic…
From one gentle rolling climax to another, swept along on orchestral waves to the moment of ‘The Flying Cloud’ – a collaboration with Viola De Gamba player Liam Byrne – fourteen verses of broadside schooner shanty –which might not seem sexy yet is masterfully constructed into an epic showstopper. Along with ‘Sounds Of The Earth’ providing the contrast of the new and the traditional and provoking a thought. Best original song – Best traditional song – Best album – take your pick of what ‘Upcetera’ might have to offer, but place your money before the odds shorten to dead cert.
‘Upcetera’ is what Blackadder’s Baldrick might call ‘a magnificent octopus’ . The embodiment of a magnum opus; a fusion of styles to form a remarkable vision. Never mind hammond organs and extended soloing – this is what progressive music is about. No hyperbole. No bull. A stunning stunning album which enriches folk music like never before.
You can watch ‘Fair Margaret And Sweet William’ here:
The Jim Moray website is at : https://www.jimmoray.com
His dedicated YouTube channel is here