Here’s more hugely enjoyable Appalachian inspired music from the deep south of England; Hatful of Rain add a little English folk feel to the ten original songs that appear on this debut cd and that, of course, is all to the good when you’re making music that springs from a shared tradition. The band comprises Chloe Overton (vocals, guitar, mandolin), James Shenton (fiddle, piano), Phil Jones (double bass, vocals, banjo) and Fred Gregory (guitar, mandolin, vocals). They mesh really well as a band, playing around a single microphone in the old style, and with an emphasis on beauty, clarity and emotion. The focus is shared around the band though with Chloe Overton taking most of the lead vocals the folk quality of her voice tends to keep the weight of the band’s music on this side of the Atlantic. Mind you, when they play a beautiful fiddle-led tune like Trafalgar Road they sound very English indeed – you could hear Dave Swarbrick coming up with that one.
The livelier numbers are much more Appalachian in spirit with Phil Jones picking his banjo with gusto and Fred Gregory’s mandolin busily driving the tune along though even then they never sound quite as unhinged as their American counterparts might. I guess bands play up to their audiences expectations and the polite applause you get from an English audience isn’t quite the same as the whooping and hollering you’d get in America. Time and again I’ve seen American musicians look very puzzled by the restrained reaction they get over here. For example, Hatful of Rain’s drinking song, Whiskey, is great fun but definitely falls on the polite side of things - Shane McGowan it’s not. The traditional tune covered at the end of the album, Angelina Baker, sounds like a cheerfully restrained barn dance; the band get helped out with a bit of flatfoot dancing from Alice Cade and some Jaw Harp from Willi Kerr and you can feel that there’s smiles all round, with no danger of any unseemly mayhem.
What I really love about this album is the beauty of the musicianship, the sense that these guys feed off each other’s skills and truly appreciate how much they benefit from each other’s presence. The title track shows off all their qualities marvellously: the balance of English and Appalachian influence is clear and the arrangement is rich with tender poignancy; this song and a livelier number, Strawberry Leaves, can be seen in performance on their website (www.hatfulofrain.co.uk ), and between them they give a fair idea of the pleasures to be heard on this album.
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