Sunday, 24 February 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Harbottle & Jonas - The Sea is My Brother : Brook View Records (Out February 22nd)

Artistic duality threads right through the latest album from Devon-based folk duo Harbottle & Jonas. Starting with the individual attributes of husband and wife team David Harbottle and Freya Jonas, the art of storytelling pairs off into the worlds of new writing and traditional arrangements to form a body of work not too short of heavyweight status. THE SEA IS MY BROTHER takes an obvious lead from the nautical world and unveils eleven tracks spanning the shoreline of our land spinning tales of contrasting ages, outcomes and inspirations. Whether heading in the direction of triumph or tragedy, the blending of golden ingredients ensures the finished product is ripe for listener engagement and satisfaction.

Eight of the eleven tracks are written by either Harbottle or Jonas, one of these ‘Elizabeth Prettejohn’ being the sole instrumental on the album. From history, you know that songs on certain topics are not going to end well such as ‘Fr. Thomas  Byles’ (Titanic) and ‘Lost to the Sea’ (Morecambe Bay cockle pickers). On the other hand, ‘A Lady Awake’ (another contemporary tribute to the 'angle of the north', Grace Darling) and ‘Headscarf Revolutionaries’ (a successful campaign to raise standards in the fishing industry), pose as upbeat pieces of good news, ensuring that successful stories, whether new or old, are continually written in song for future generations to enjoy. Whatever direction Harbottle and Jones take their work in, the content, approach and output adds to a fascinating mix.

While there are certain demands put upon the listener, rewards for hard-yards applied are endless. If delving deep into a folk album, admiring two contrasting voices and losing yourself in a whirlwind of harmonium, concertina and various stringed instruments is considered a treat, then this album is heading in your direction.

Without soaring up to enormous highs (consistency is a valid trait), there are several significant moments to pinpoint facets of the album. The opening track, a non-Harbottle and Jonas write based on the Scott/Amundsen race to the South Pole (the sole land based leaning offering) ‘Was It You’ has probably the strongest chorus on the album and generally smooths the way for the sterner material. ‘Liverpool City’ sees the duo slip into sentimental mode with a song based on the location of their meeting to provide a diversion from the generally tougher content on the record.

The search for the vocal high is likely to end with Jonas' gorgeous wrap around the title track ‘The Sea is My Brother’. In addition, no folk album is complete without a spritely traditional number to fuel the purists and ‘The Saucy Sailor Boys’ fits the bill. The final two tracks to complete this brief round-up are an upbeat arrangement to a poem called ‘Hall Sands’ and the closing song, ‘Saved Alone’ written by Jonas. These are another two to put into the tragedy column, but there is an overall even balance between light and dark across the the forty-one minute playing time.

You need not be a coastal dweller to take something from this record. We folks from the dead centre of the country almost a hundred miles from any seashore experience can apply a sense of imagination and spirit. Of course, the craft and guile of Harbottle and Jonas has provided more than a lending hand.

THE SEA IS MY BROTHER is one album not going to need a rescue mission to recover its lost treasure from the depths of Davy Jones' Locker. Just check out this latest record from a duo likely to see their standing rise in the headwind of a fulfilling release.