Jim Moray: Skulk
Jim Moray’s 5th album Skulk is soon to be released on the singer’s own label and is another fine piece of work from the English roots musician. The new album comprises mostly folk songs learned from a variety of sources, often with new arrangements, words and melodies. Moray has been criticised in some quarters – wrongly in my view – for his experiments with beats and loops, for his radical reworking of folk songs, and even for his occasional use of falsetto singing. This album is rather less experimental than before and has a strong acoustic base but Moray is still not averse to doing things in a completely unexpected way when he feels it’s necessary and he usually gets it spot on.
All but two of the songs on Skulk are traditional. The exceptions are ‘If It’s True’ from Anais Mitchell’s folk opera Hadestown (which has Moray sounding vaguely like Marc Almond), and ‘Big Love’ a Fleetwood Mac composition driven along here by Moray’s banjo. On other songs, he plays acoustic and electric guitars, piano, electric bass, drums, organ, keyboards, concertina and melodeon. He is also joined on some tracks by other musicians, notably Andy Cutting (melodeon), BJ Cole (pedal steel guitar) and his sister Jackie Oates (backing vocals and viola).
Two songs were learned from Nic Jones. ‘Courting is a Pleasure’ is taken at a slower pace than usual and is brooding and jazzy while ‘The Golden Glove’ is in a folk-rock style familiar to listeners of Moray’s previous albums. Meanwhile ‘Horkstow Grange’ is sung unaccompanied with delicious harmonies. Best of all is the 7 minute track ‘Lord Douglas’ with superb acoustic guitar and a wonderfully plaintive, heartfelt vocal on this complex ballad. It’s another traditional song collected from various European sources and given a new tune and some new words.
It’s hard to know whether this is Jim Moray’s best album to date. His Low Culture from 2008 will take some beating but this is well up to the usual high standard. He has recently appeared in concert in Vietnam where he represented the UK as part of the UNESCO International Congress. A visit to Okinawa may be unlikely but would be extremely welcome.
Skulk is released on CD in April but is already available as a download from Jim Moray’s website. Its title refers to the collective noun for foxes.