wed 19/06/2024

CD of the Year: Sam Lee - Ground of Its Own | reviews, news & interviews

CD of the Year: Sam Lee - Ground of Its Own

CD of the Year: Sam Lee - Ground of Its Own

Folk singer's debut takes ancient British traveller songs to thrilling new places

Sam Lee: hovering between worlds

One would hope that a man whose CV includes “teacher of wilderness survival” and burlesque dancer might be well equipped to bring a better than average sense of depth and drama to a set of folk songs handed down through generations via the oral tradition. Even so, Sam Lee's achievements on Ground of Its Own surpassed all expectations.

I first heard of Lee last year courtesy of a piece on theartsdesk which followed his attempt to fuse English folk music with the indigenous sounds of Sudan. His tendency to look for interesting cultural connections is equally evident on his Mercury Prize-nominated debut album, which features eight stunningly beautiful and highly adventurous interpretations of songs learned from the gypsy and traveller communities, with each source carefully credited in the album notes.

The relative obscurity of much of the material, such as the hare coursing ballad “On Yonder Hill”, is matched by ambitious arrangements which make clever use of space, silence, unusual instrumentation (bells, trumpets, tank drums, birdsong and the drone of the shruti box) and Lee’s rich, very 21st-century baritone. The result is a dream-like suite of songs which feels as ancient and elemental as the earth, yet at the same time thrillingly fresh and contemporary.

Lee utterly inhabits the material, which seems to hover between worlds, unhurried and ghostly. More than that, he understands the shiver and wonder, the dark magic at the heart of the best folk music. Any album of the year candidate has to reward repeated listens, and the spell woven by Ground of Its Own only deepened between its release in high summer and the winter solstice. Along with Alasdair Roberts, who will deliver a monumental new album early next year, Lee is planting the traditional roots of folk music in wonderfully fertile new ground.

Watch Sam Lee performing "On Yonder Hill"

Lee understands the shiver and wonder, the dark magic at the heart of the best folk music

Share this article


Justified, Sam transcends tradition into the 22nd century... unlike any folk singer/performer I've heard in over a decade. Made my Top Spot on my poll as well.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters