sun 22/05/2022

Album: Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage - Ink of the Rosy Morning | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage - Ink of the Rosy Morning

Album: Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage - Ink of the Rosy Morning

Folk treasures from a lockdown den

Inhabiting the songs

What an exquisite album! Beautiful voices that harmonise to perfection, superlative instrumental work, and songs both new and old yet all somehow familiar and timeless. Ink of the Rosy Morning: A Sampling of Folk Songs from Britain and North America is a lockdown album that captures the spontaneity that few of us felt during that dark time.

Emerging in 2016 with Before the Sun, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage – self-described “children of the folk clubs” – met in a Cambridge folk club doing floor spots, she having returned from America, he from a tour with The Willows. The chance encounter marked the beginning of a journey which drew from their shared well of folk music. Their third album was mixed and ready to go when the world stopped turning, so they decided to seize the moment and retreat to an old Hastings schoolhouse where they lit a fire, opened a bottle or two, and set about recording whatever they fancied. No going “hard down the rabbit hole”, but rather doing what came naturally: “We’ve known a lot of these songs for a very long time and when you’ve known songs for that long, you don’t think about it, you just play them.” And inhabit them.

The sound is beautiful, close-miked, live. You can visualise Sanders and Savage face to face around a single mic, each watching the other intently, breathing in unison, and you can hear every strummed and plucked detail of guitars and dobro, including that always-nostalgic squeak of fingers on brand-new strings. The intimacy is breath-taking.

One imagines they recorded far more than is released here and perhaps one day we will be privileged to hear anything still in the can. The songs they have sequenced come from Cambridge, Norfolk, Cape Breton and beyond. The brief notes to each scrupulously chronicle sources and inspiration: “Lovely Joan”, a feminist anthem, from Sanders’ mother and “just in my DNA”; “Winter’s Night” from Doc Watson, the blind folk, gospel, and bluegrass master whose influences were Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family – Sanders heard him at Newport. It was Savage’s version of “False True Love” that had long inspired Sanders, while Savage thinks he learned the song from Shirley Collins or Sara Grey.

The pacing is perfect, the intense rhythms of the opening songs, “Winter’s Night” and “Polly O Polly”, drawing you in immediately and giving way to the meditative “When First I Came to Caledonia”, a narrative song of longing and homesickness familiar from Waterson:Carthy and from which comes the album’s title.

The two new songs on the album fit perfectly: their own “A-Life, A-Lie”, and “River Don’t Run”, Richard Guard and Anna Crockett’s evocative telling of the destruction of lives in Agar Town in the 1860s as St Pancras Railway Station was expanded. It could be a song about HS2, cutting a swathe through much the same area of North London. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Which sort of sums up the folk process.

Ink of the Rosy Morning is deeply satisfying and fulfilling. I can’t wait to hear more.

Liz Thomson's website

The sound is beautiful, close-miked, live. The intimacy is breath-taking

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