The Bara Bara Band - The Seeds Inside (The Grapes Upon The Vine)

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-09-15

There are musical notes that touch the very air we breathe. That’s folk music. It’s a song we sing when we work; it’s a hopeful song on a wedding day; it’s the song of happy drink; and yes, it’s a song murmured while standing in the mud of a new grave in the midst of cold rain. There is also a lot of grease in the wooden wheels of folk music. And this album by The Bara Bare Band, like all good traditional music, touches the air we breathe and greases the axles of our lives.

Fairport Convention touched that ancient wood of Britain. They burnt bonfires. And others followed that path into oaken history. Pentangle toured the world. Steeleye Span became famous with popular songs like “Gaudete” and “All Around My Hat.”  But there were so many great bands: Trees, Forest, Decameron, Dando Shaft, The Incredible String Band, and its off shoot Cob (Clive’s Own Band), who released an album called Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart. And I would be remiss to snub my two favorites: Hedgehog Pie and the incredible Comus.

Karl Marx said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Well, he was wrong about a lot of stuff, so let’s delete him in reference to a great new British folk band.

 Mark Twain may or may not have said, “History never repeats itself, but it sure does rhyme.” Who knows? But somebody must have said it because I pressed the quotation key twice. And I really like this idea which fits perfectly with this new album by The Bara Bara Band, a folk group that plays in the footsteps of the best of those folk bands that sang about jumping the broom, hunting the wren, little Matty Groves, the Midnight Hanging of a Runaway Serf, and Maypole dancing.               

To the point: The Bara Bara Band’s The Seeds Inside (the Grapes Upon the Vine) certainly rhymes with the very best of new and old English folk music. (And the album doesn’t even include a Moyshe McStiff, a Tartan Lancer, or a Sacred Heart in its title!)

The four piece band, Ruth Jacob (vocals, banjo, harmonica, tin whistle and guitar), Rupert Browne (guitar, bass guitar, and vocals), Will Dobson (drums and percussion), and Boris Ming (fiddle and backing vocals) come out firing a broadside with the very first tune, the self-penned “Mists of Time.”Its droning violin and descending baseline join forces with an up-tempo guitar and banjo to usher in Ruth’s very English voice which graces a really nice melody and is subtly backed by husband Rupert’s harmony.

Speaking of broadsides, “Plimsol” was just that—a traditional broadside for which the band composed a melody. It’s a seafaring protest, the work of Samuel Plimsol, against the greedy shipping company hacks that sent the men on “coffin ships” to death for the thirty pieces of silver insurance money. The plea for social justice against cruelty still resonates today because the man always wants to screw poor people without any power.

Betwixt these songs is “The Wind” which successfully blends British folk instrumental music with Appalachian influences. Ruth’s banjo dominates, and recalls the self same banjo playing of the iconic Shirley Collins.

The traditional “Who Put the Blood” is an old ballad. I know the song from Steeleye Span’s Back in Line album where we are gradually told of the murder of “Edward’s” brother. June Tabor and the Oysterband altered the title to “Son David” but the story is pretty much the same. Trust me: that version with June Tabor and John Jones trading vocals on the Ragged Kingdom record is sublime. But Bara Bara’s arrangement is a pretty good game plan and adds a rather wicked incestuous element (which would have caused Cecil Sharp to blush a deep shade of Victorian red). Their staccato delivery adds a new sinister element to the tune. 

I am a big fan of this British folk music, and I like this album a lot.

And I still wonder, from time to time, about the recipe (and calorie count) of a hedgehog pie.

“Wandle” takes the band in another direction. It’s dreamy psych that powers along quite nicely without straying too far from a traditional folk backbone. Having writers in the band is always a risk. Few will ever reach the quintessence of Fairport’s “Sloth,” “Genesis Hall,” and Richard Thompson’s own “Old Changing Way,” but the original tunes serve to create an identity. That said, “All Live the Same” is a bit didactic and simplistic, but the violin and harmony vocals are really nice. And truly, it’s the song I found myself humming in my head for days. “Telling Me I Should Know” is another good original song with banjo and guitar interplay that hovers in the air like the before-mentioned Comus’ “Diana.”

Of course, there’s always room for a good a cappella traditional “tumbling” song like “The Barley and the Rye.” Speaking of tumbling, I honestly cannot, in good conscience, fail to quote old Wessex’s favorite son, Thomas Hardy, from his novel, Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Our heroine Tess is told that “the maids” come to a certain dancehall because “The Flower-de-Luce sometimes shuts up just when their jints begin to get greased.” Now I’m not sure, but I think that’s something akin to getting one’s mojo to start working.

By the way, I once met a woman in Edinburgh who claimed her very distant aunt was, indeed, the Annie who slept with Robert Burns in “the corn rigs and barley rigs” and was immortalized in the song of the same name.

I asked her for an autograph.

The rest of the record is just good British folk music. The bluesy “Before It’s Too Late” is followed by the urgent “More and More” (with a great banjo and fiddle “Twin Sisters” bit at the end).  And “On the M25” is a catchy sing-a-long with an incredible chorus as Ruth and Rupert trade lead vocals. They finish with the traditional “All For Me Grog,” a song for the end of the day, a song with a smile, and a song for a drink and a dance.

This album is, indeed, a pretty good wink, a wink to the past, a wink to the future, and a wink to all of us in the present who still somehow desire to embrace the fading spectre of ancient songs sung around bonfires fed by haunted woods that burn hot magic into the autumnal starry air. This album conjures those ghosts. They are spirits of long ago; they are spirits that still touch the air we breathe; they are the spirits of future fires. They are spirits, dancing in the grooves of this record, that still need, even after all these years of traditional English song, to always seem have their “jints” in desperate need of being “greased.”

                      

 

 

 

 

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