Review of Respectable Rebellion for York Mix

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Darren Thackeray for York Mix

Folk is a relatively well-worn genre. Like an old dusty jacket or a pair of well-travelled boots it certainly looks the part, but as you pull at the seams and undo the laces you can unravel the magic and once that starts, like discovering how your old man pulled that penny from your ear, the magic is gone. This is always my worry when embracing a new album.

Sunday was no different. As I opened my laptop and poured my coffee I was trying to clear my mind of all preconceptions and suddenly The Queen of the Holloway did it for me. This was the opening track to Respectable Rebellion, the latest album from Yorkshire based folk duo Union Jill, and the magic was there.

The album begins unexpectedly, with an almost Neil Young-esque grinding rhythm the main backbone of the song. Wonderful banjo overlay from Andy Seward gives it a real Americana, almost bluegrass feel but the underlying sentiment and the sharp, penetrating vocals from the duo are folk to the bone.

Sharon Winfield and Helen Turner have a purpose here and this comes across in their carefully deployed librettos, forging exquisitely close harmonies and commenting on everything from the Suffragette movement in the title track, to the roles of women in the Second World War in the song Trailblazer.

The music is complex at times, with instruments battling each other for supremacy but this only adds to the unfolding drama wrapped up in the lyrics and no instrument feels redundant. In a fashion loosely reminiscent of a Bellowhead performance they merge and take it in turns to step out into the spotlight before retiring back dutifully into the soundscape.

Despite this cascade, the duo very much remain at the forefront and shine on through contextual narratives, almost seducing the listener and leaving them wanting more. If Respectable Rebellion were a book, it would be one of those you’d never be able to put down mid-chapter.

And this is a book that can entertain. As a listener, you’re left asking questions surrounding the demise of Mad Alice, a heroine hanged for fear of her madness in York in 1825, the slow and ominous scratching of the violins punctuating her death at the hands of such injustice.

Grandfather’s Ghost and its eerie, disturbing tale is made all the more terrifying by the harrowing resonance of the organ. Emotion is instilled in the listener as they are able to see these historical narratives through the eyes of those involved making the album an interactive and engaging listen.

At times there are soft, Nick Drake like whispers of subtlety but these moments are intricately woven into larger beasts which are ultimately unleashed in an amalgamation of styles the sum of which, and this is the true magic of the record, is unforgettably folk at heart.

Union Jill’s latest album not only proudly carries a candle for traditional folk but it goes that extra mile by adding value to an already densely populated genre. This is no mean feat and a difficult thing to nurture to maturity. I recommend you pick up a copy…

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