This Mercury prize nominee continues to shake up the folk scene with this second album packed with drama and surprise. Sam Lee again concentrates on traditional songs he learned from Gypsy travellers; they are performed in no-nonsense, almost crooned style, but with startlingly original settings. So the opening Jonny O’ the Brine matches edgy, insistent percussion against wailing brass and ukulele effects, while Bonny Bunch of Roses starts with an archive recording of an eastern European cantor mixed with flute, violin and percussion.
Although it’s tempting to view Mercury-nominated folk artist Sam Lee as a traditionalist, collecting and reviving old folk songs, this would be a mistake. His second album, this time credited to Sam Lee & Friends perhaps to reflect the growing role of the ensemble in these spectacular arrangements, demonstrates his open-mindedness and ability to breathe new, startlingly radical life in to these songs. It’s an adventurous musical form of fusion cooking, adding elements from Indian, West African and Asian music to the foraged ingredients of the great folk songs of the British Isles.
Sam Lee’s American debut The Fade in Time presents an artistic wanderer with a deep reverence for the British folk tradition, an ear tuned to the broader world’s rhythms, and a restless heart. A journeyman whose varied endeavors range from wilderness survivalism to burlesque dancing, it is fitting that his chance encounter with renowned Scottish Traveller singer Stanley Robertson set him upon his musical career. Robertson’s tutelage led Lee to understand the need for a new generation of song collectors to keep the old songs alive and make them vital in a new millennium.
“Re-wilding” is how Sam Lee describes his treatment of antique folk songs, most on this second album collected by him from the Travelling community. There’s certainly a free, sometimes fierce spirit to the arrangements brewed by Lee and co-producers Arthur Jeffes and Jamie Orchard-Lisle (both of Penguin Cafe). Opener Jonny O’the Brine gallops to a tabla rhythm, Bonny Bunch of Roses drifts on a backdrop of flutes, fiddles and a crackling east European 78, while Lovely Molly uses a full choir.