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CD: Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker - Seedlings All | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker - Seedlings All

CD: Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker - Seedlings All

Songs of emotional maturity from the art-folk duo

A new leaf

I first saw Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker at the Green Note in Camden just as they released 2013's Fire and Fortune album. The room was packed and they were brilliant, their own songs mixed with traditional pieces and choice covers. What was striking was that their own songs didn’t pale, lyrically or melodically, beside the others. Something good was going on here, embodied by Clarke’s limpid voice of longing, refute, realisation, and melancholia, alongside Walker’s brilliance as a guitarist and arranger. Since then, they’ve signed to Rough Trade from which came 2016’s stellar set of covers and originals, Overnight, last autumn’s gorgeous The Birds EP, and now Seedlings All, the duo’s first album of all-original songs.

And what songs. They have the heart and intensity of a lighthouse beam, warning travellers from the rocks and sandbanks of relationship, belonging, desire. And purpose, too, because the opening track, "Chicago", unpeels the humiliation familiar to many a rising artist in new territory – the gig where no one turns up. The musical settings range from artful, multi-layered art folk-pop through jazz. Kit Downes, with whom Clarke released another EP late last year, features on the album’s list of players, alongside Andy Cutting on melodeon, a cello trio and drummer James Maddren. And around them are Clarke’s voice and lyrics, both of which are singular in their effects.

Her voice, classically trained, is a superb instrument of emotional transmission, one that can encompass the wide-eyed and innocent, as well as the knowing and the hurt. Lyrically, she is on a different level to most of her songwriting peers in contemporary British folk. Songs such as "Bells Ring" take a metaphysical dive into what is, at first, a familiar bell-ringing image of love and union, but rapidly shapeshifts into something much more entwined, ambiguous and absorbing. Lyrically, hers is an intense set of interiors, backlit and spotlit by Walker’s settings, illuminating a heart’s abbatoir and boudoir side by side. Hers is a voice with a most human reach and resonance. Listen to these songs and you’ll find your own face there, reflecting the condition of your own interior.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "Chicago" by Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker

I first saw Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker at the Green Note in Camden just as they released 2013's Fire and Fortune album. The room was packed and they were brilliant, their own songs mixed with traditional pieces and choice covers. What was striking was that their own songs didn’t pale, lyrically or melodically, beside the others. Something good was going on here, embodied by Clarke’s limpid voice of longing, refute, realisation, and melancholia, alongside Walker’s brilliance as a guitarist and arranger. Since then, they’ve signed to Rough Trade from which came 2016’s stellar set of covers and originals, Overnight, last autumn’s gorgeous The Birds EP, and now Seedlings All, the duo’s first album of all-original songs.

And what songs. They have the heart and intensity of a lighthouse beam, warning travellers from the rocks and sandbanks of relationship, belonging, desire. And purpose, too, because the opening track, "Chicago", unpeels the humiliation familiar to many a rising artist in new territory – the gig where no one turns up. The musical settings range from artful, multi-layered art folk-pop through jazz. Kit Downes, with whom Clarke released another EP late last year, features on the album’s list of players, alongside Andy Cutting on melodeon, a cello trio and drummer James Maddren. And around them are Clarke’s voice and lyrics, both of which are singular in their effects.

Her voice, classically trained, is a superb instrument of emotional transmission, one that can encompass the wide-eyed and innocent, as well as the knowing and the hurt. Lyrically, she is on a different level to most of her songwriting peers in contemporary British folk. Songs such as "Bells Ring" take a metaphysical dive into what is, at first, a familiar bell-ringing image of love and union, but rapidly shapeshifts into something much more entwined, ambiguous and absorbing. Lyrically, hers is an intense set of interiors, backlit and spotlit by Walker’s settings, illuminating a heart’s abbatoir and boudoir side by side. Hers is a voice with a most human reach and resonance. Listen to these songs and you’ll find your own face there, reflecting the condition of your own interior.

Overleaf: Watch the video for "Chicago" by Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker

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