Neal Heppleston ~ Folk Songs for Double Bass

Neal Heppleston calls the album folk, while we label it post-rock; fortunately we have one category that covers both.  Folk Songs for Double Bass pours folk lyrics into instrumental post-rock forges, opening new avenues of appreciation.  No longer do the old songs seem so old, relegated to the times in which they were composed.  Those just discovering these songs may unearth the original treasures and be doubly blessed.  Due to the pedigree of these pieces, the label’s name, Preserved Sound, seems particularly apt.

While researching the origins of these songs, we came across some interesting tidbits, the first of which is that opening track “Willie of Winsbury” once contained over a hundred verses.  Shout out the request in a Scottish bar circa 1775, and you’d be sitting there for a while ~ if you survived the death threats of the other patrons.  This was the “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” of the 18th century.  Heppleston is no slave to repetition, offering here variations on a theme, backed with a supporting cast reminiscent of Rachel’s.  Heppleston then launches into a one-minute version of Irish folk tune “The Minstrel Boy” (formerly known as “The Moreen”).  Sing along, but sing quickly!  Such is prelude to the album’s longest and most effective piece, “Bows of London,” which has always sounded too jaunty for its source material ~ after all, it’s about a drowned sister who whose bones are made into a fiddle that sings her tale, exposing the murderer.  The gothic tone of this story is enhanced by the double bass and the dissonant strings that haunt the fourth minute.  The song, like the soul of the deceased, finds new life in a new form.

The mood lightens with a children’s song followed by a sea shanty.  “Spanish Ladies” is often heard on accordion, conjuring images of drunken sailors dangling from swinging ropes, spilling glasses of warm beer.  Heppleston restores some dignity to the Royal Navy favorite, instilling it with the melancholy one might feel should one truly feel sorry about sailing away.  He even exits halfway through (imitating the sailors), allowing electronics and late drums to shelter the ship to sea, where it meets a happy Scottish whaling song (although not so happy for the whale).  This traveling triptych concludes with the English tune “Spencer the Rover.”  We can’t ignore the fact that three songs about leaving the Isles are found on an album released on Brexit Day ~ a possible plea, however subliminal, for unity.  This makes Vaughn Williams’ “Just as the tide was flowing” a bittersweet coda, the final lyrics as follows:

When we were weary we did sit down
Beneath a tree with branches round;
For my true love at last I'd found,
Just as the tide was flowing.

Those familiar with the lyrics will recall this bucolic surrender, while those enjoying the instrumental version may recall hearing the tune on church organ and wonder, “is this a hymn?”  It is ~ in fact, the entirety of Folk Songs for Double Bass is a hymn, a hymn to tradition and modernity, to peace among nations, to traveling afar and returning to the comforts of home.  (Richard Allen)

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