CD Review
The Smoke Fairies
Through Low Light and Trees
(Shock Records)

smokefairiesI love this album. It’s like I dreamt it, a beautiful dream in which so much of the music I love magically combined somewhere deep in my unconscious and came out just the way I wanted it.

And then it was sitting there on the CD player when I woke up.

Through Low Light and Trees is like some blissed-out combination of English folk and American roots music, like Maddy Prior and Sandy Denny and Bert Jansch and The Be Good Tanyas and Liz Durrett and Vic Chesnutt participated in a highly successful in-vitro program and produced from their own musical DNA these lovely musicians who are all of them combined and themselves at the same time.

Take a  breath, reviewer, you’ll have people wanting to buy it and maybe they won’t like as much as you.

-They should buy it!

Look, it’s not often you find something out of the blue like this that really takes your fancy, so you’ll have to excuse me for getting a bit breathless. Have a listen to these three tracks to get the idea.

Now here’s the backstory, which I nicked from Wikipedia:

Blamire and Davies met at school in Sussex during the mid-late 1990s. They began singing together in the school choir, picking up their parents’ guitars and obsessing over Jessica’s mum’s vinyl albums collection, dominated by American ‘70s classics. A year spent in New Orleans in 2002 also helped shape their sound. Back in England, they discovered British folk at the Sidmouth Folk Festival while working as car park attendants. They later spent a year living in Vancouver, Canada, before returning to London. With their band name in place – Smoke Fairies alludes to the summer mist that collects in the hedgerows of Sussex’s narrow country lanes – the duo started gigging. In 2007 they supported Bryan Ferry on a tour of the UK and later toured with The Handsome Family in the Spring of 2009.

In December 2009 Jack White’s Third Man Label released a 7″ single “Gastown/ Riversong”. The track was produced by Jack White III and featured him on guitar and drums.

I’ve purposely embedded the songs above — even though there are YouTubes available — just because I reckon it’s better to hear the music without the visual interference. But if you really want a clip, here’s one of them doing ‘Hotel Room’ live (love this song).

And here’s another song, though this is from an earlier EP, not the new album.

Okay, the playing isn’t brilliant; the guitar, especially on the solos, lacks a bit of attack, is just that bit too delicate, though I realise this is a bit of a boy thing to say.  Still, this sort of music is very forgiving of technical skill if you get the feel right and to my mind, they do that in spades.   And the guitar sounds are awesome.

The songs also have to be good and these songs are.

What I really like about the songs is that, especially given the folk/roots form, Blamire and Davies don’t just settle for strum-along arrangements.  Nearly every song is built around a riff of some sort and it gives a real edge to the music.  It doesn’t quite kick over into rock, but the songs have that folk/rock feel about them.  I guess it’s most notable on ‘Hotel Room’, but it’s there throughout.

And then there’s a the vocals, which really are top notch, especially when they harmonise.  In fact, it is the voices that give the Smoke Fairies their distinctively English sound, and it probably isn’t going too far to say that vocally they are English, while instrumentally they live somewhere closer to the American South.

So yeah, there you have it: a real find.  A joy of an album and I wish them a long and fruitful career.

CODA: This is also my last review for Johnny’s in the Basement.  Sad to be finishing up, but glad to be able to go out on such a fine album.  I’ve enjoyed talking about music with you all and I think Johnny’s brought something a bit different to music reviewing; I certainly tried to make the site something more than regurgitation of the stuff you get on other sites.

So thank you all for reading and contributing, here and on Twitter and through emails, and I’ll no doubt be in touch through other writing such as that at The Drum and B-Sides.  (Maybe even the odd post here in a guest capacity.)

Also, a big thanks to all the labels, distributors, managers and bands who provided the albums for me to review.  Special thanks to Will Alexander, Blake Price and Lou Ridsdale who were particularly generous with their time and support and who, I think, got what we were trying to do here.

It’s been a hoot!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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