Miscellaneous - Under the Radar

  by Keith How

published: 16 / 7 / 2020

Miscellaneous - Under the Radar

In the latest 'Under The Radar', Keith How reviews the musical companion to a collection of spooky folk stories, and a power trio from Sheffield by way of Joshua Tree.


A concept album can elicit gasps in fear, but do not fear what we have here – it's a real treat. 'Help the Witch' is a musical companion to a book of short stories by the same name, written by Tom Cox. Cox's folk horror tales are full of strange and curious goings-on, partly inspired by his surroundings and often informed by his musical taste. Cox says he thinks of his books like albums – the idea of a companion album to his book came from that. 'Help the Witch' the book is a collection of ghost stories dealing with folklore, earth magick, landscape and strange beings. Cox approached his favourite musicians to provide the soundtrack to his tales. With musicians on board, a Kickstarter campaign was launched. Finally, the project has found completion. Given a free hand, this collection of some of Britain's finest creatives delivered an absolutely stunning record. Scotland's Grey Malkin (Widow's Weeds) takes on the plight of a persecuted Derbyshire witch, while our old friend Jim Ghedi turns in the title track, offering one of his trademark modern folk instrumentals. The Left Outsides contribute the gothically atmospheric, gently rolling 'Seance' where soaring violins and vocals create a sense of mystery. Sheffield's Bobby Lee brings 'Listings' – a stone-cold groove lays a sound foundation for a menacing guitar riff, a perfect cut for a night drive on a lonely road. 'Robot' is created by Stick in the Wheel – its hypnotic and unsettling backdrop allows a voiceover to tell this strange tale. Post-rock influenced outing 'The Pool' from the Trimdon Grange Explosion is a dark and haunting piece that could have been on the 'More' film soundtrack. The beautiful 'Reeds and Rushes' is contributed by Zervas and Pepper. Tunes from Gemma Khawaja and Jack Sharp bring some classic English folk-rock to the proceedings. Add Daniel Davies of Wolf People into the mix, and you have a fascinating and essential "folk horror" album and an insight into some of the most tremendous music you can discover from the quiet undergrowth of the British music scene. Bobby Lee "Shakedown in Slabtown" (Natural Histories) The aforementioned Bobby Lee, whose 'Listings' features on 'Help the Witch' releases his solo album 'Shakedown in Slabtown' this month on Natural Histories. Lee is a man of impeccable taste in both music and sartorial elegance. Hailing from Sheffield via Joshua Tree California he is part-promoter, part-DJ, part-vinyl collector, part-band leader and, when needed, the bass player for the mighty Gospel Beach from California. Lee's album is your perfect back porch summer evening groove. Ice cool swamp guitar weaves sensual shapes like a rattlesnake moving in desert sands. Guy Whittaker's drums echo like thunder in the hills while Mark Armstrong's electric bass is rock solid. There is more to Lee's music than just a guitar trio. He mixes in what I believe is a vintage drum machine that adds real spice into the mix. There is a haunting sense of space pervading these instrumentals. Dusty crackles and echoing guitar sometimes whisper like a night breeze on the prairie then again growl and snarl like a cornered wildcat. Good stuff that has you reaching for the repeat button. 'Shakedown' is an unhurried groove with hints of gospel and minimalism thrown into the gumbo for good measure. Imagine you are in the Nevada Desert, U.F.O. spotting, and let this album wash over you. 'Shakedown in Slabtown' also features stunning artwork created by Santi Oviedo, which completes the whole concept beautifully. Nice one Mr Lee, long may you run.

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