The Owl Service - The View From A Hill
With their debut album A Garland Of Song a few years ago, The Owl Service became standard bearers for an oft maligned English folk scene by marrying a new sense of experimentation to the more traditional elements of this most ancient of genres. So for the centrepiece of their new ‘Pattern Beneath The Plough’ series, the septet have taken the daring option of producing an album entirely of old folk songs done in their own inimitable style. The band inevitably open themselves up for comparisons to the likes of Fotheringay, Pentangle and Steeleye Span by recording such tunes as ‘The Banks Of The Nile’ and ‘Willie O’Winsbury’; but such murmerings are pointless, with The Owl Service leaning less on the guitar and vocal style of the 70s folk revival and more on the drones and tones more often associated with more ambient bands.
That’s not to say they won’t go all out traditional at times: the pairing of ‘I Was A Young Man’ and ‘Sorry The Day I Was Married’ are sung by Jason Steel and Nancy Wallace respectively, sans instrumentation and are sublime displays of pure emotion. And herein lies The Owl Service’s greatest strength, as not only do these two supply wonderful vocals, but they can call on the likes of Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle and Jo Lepine, who sings a truly heartbreaking version of ‘Cruel Mother’ to close the album, a version of the song that betters all previous attempts I have ever heard - including the likes of Shirley Collins.
Closing in on folk perefection.