Steve Hunt in fRoots #367/368, January / February 2014

BEAUTY AND BUTCHERY

Long Hill is in Sussex, between the towns of Brighton and Lewes (near where singer Laura Hocken- hull, guitarist Tab Hunter, fiddler Ben Paley and banjo and mandolin player Dan Stewart all live) Their musical heartlands, however, stretch from West Sussex to West Virginia.

From the first track, Take Me Home, it’s gloriously apparent that Laura Hockenhull possesses not just a fantastic voice, but also the happy knack of delivering the old-time American songs convincingly while keeping her English accent and pronunciation firmly intact. Hunter, Paley and Stewart are all widely-acknowledged masters of their instruments but there isn’t a trace of the dry, sterile, academic virtuosity that afflicts the recordings of too many for whom it all comes very easily – rather a real sense that these chaps are using their ears as much as their fingers.

Paley has already been called “just about the best folk fiddler of his generation” in this esteemed organ, and he justifies that praise in abundance here. As the subtle alchemy of his playing transmutes the Appalachian One Year When Bacon Was Scarce into a Swedish polska you’ll be entranced until the very last note. When he then shifts into high gear for the following Hop Rabbit Hop, you’ll be dancing uncontrollably round the kitchen and grinning from ear to ear.

It’s not all about Paley’s fiddle though, any more than it’s all about Hockenhull’s voice. Brimming with a unified energy, confidence and good humour, the Ramblers’ various combinations and arrangements of Hunter’s flatpicking, Stewart’s clawhammer and everyone’s vocal harmonies all point to this being one of those timeless records where everything sits perfectly in relation to everything else, casting even familiar fare like Molly Bond in a new and engrossing light.

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Al Scott, “gloriously under-produced” by Sean Lakeman, and packaged in a plastic-free package with typically witty and eye-catching David Owen artwork, this is an album that succeeds on every level. ‘Out there’ music from locals. Hear a track on fRoots 47.