Jim Moray: Upcetera
Tales of heartache and death, exile and execution. It must be another album of English folk songs. In fact, Jim Moray’s new release Upcetera, his first solo album for four years, began as a collection of Child Ballads but then broadened out and also includes two originals by Moray that slip in nicely at the heart of the album. Both of these songs – ‘The Straight Line and the Curve’ and ‘Sounds of Earth’ – are unusually inspired by science and scientists and sit well among the older stories of misery.
As expected, the traditional songs are presented in anything but traditional ways. Moray plays a plethora of instruments and is credited with guitars, piano, bass, drums, vibraphone, ukulele, banjo, lute and organ as well as vocals but it doesn’t end there as several other musicians including a string and woodwind section are drafted in. It all works beautifully.
Outstanding among the reworked traditional songs is ‘William of Barbery’ (we know we’re in good hands as soon as the drums kick in) while ‘Lord Franklin’ is tackled with confidence to underline that there aren’t any definitive versions of these songs as Moray gives us a different insight into a familiar big ballad. Meanwhile ‘The Foggy Dew’, usually sung as a bawdy comic song, is turned here into something more weighty and compelling.
The arrangements of the songs and the cast of musicians means the sound is often so dramatic and emotional that it’s easy to forget what the stories are about but this isn’t a criticism as you wouldn’t really want it any other way. Moray has a wonderfully plaintive, expressive voice which gets to the emotional core and it’s just these kinds of ballad that suit him best.
In his Low Culture podcast (highly recommended, by the way) Jim Moray talks each week with guests, most, but not all, connected with the current UK folk scene. In the last podcast of the first series he reveals that when planning Upcetera he was thinking of something more like “English fado, dramatic torch songs”. This is very evidently his great strength and it’s exactly the feeling that comes through.
Upcetera will be released on 30th September but is already available as a download from Jim Moray’s website where his podcast can also be found.