Devonbird is (essentially) a vehicle for the original songs of Devon-based songwriter Kathryn Bird, who is aided in her endeavours by fellow band members Sophia Colkin (violin) and Rob Wheaton (guitar, vocals). Together, with the help of expert producer Mark Tucker, they conjure a rich tapestry of sound that belies the seemingly restricted instrumental complement
The overall sound and approach owes much to early-'70s prog-folk and/or folk-rock, and the clear enthusiasm with which the musicians play is both commendable and infectious. Kath's voice is exactly right for the songs and their subject-matter (primarily local legends, history and folklore), her tone and inflection lending further credence to her careful enunciation. Other than on its distinctly Albion-esque title song, the album's title theme is best celebrated on Greenwood Tree (which is succeeded by a joyous stomping fiddle tune, Jenny Wren, written by Sophia), while the ethereal Dead Kings Land (a sure disc highlight in my book) was inspired by contemplation of Stonehenge and its satellite monuments and Star People tells of the cosmic "guardian angels" who have saved the fates of adventurers down the ages.
Mary tells the tale of Kath's grandmother, who we learn had worked for folksong collector Barine-Gould, and Rain Dance also explores a Dartmoor connection - in this case the local witches. The heartfelt yearning of Rose powerfully depicts the eternal folksong plight of the lady waiting eternally for her lover to return. The disc's closer, Rebecca Downing's Lament, sets words from a broadside by T. Brice that might've been penned by a woman condemned to death in Exeter in 1782, although it might be argued that the medley of two traditional jigs that precedes it might have made for a more overtly rousing finisher (in the style of Devonbird's stage act maybe).
The packaging of the disc is eye-catching and attractive, but IMHO it would have been even more useful to have included lyrics within. Sadly I can't comment on any progression from Devonbird's first album Hangman's Daughter (2013), having not heard it, but Turning Of The Year boasts a level of confidence and accomplishment that one might see in an outfit with several albums under its belt, and on the evidence of this album alone their producer Mark clearly has the exact measure of the band's music and a firm handle on Kathy's artistic vision.
TURNING OF THE YEAR – DEVONBIRD
Many writers will tell you that reviewing an album from a band whose members you know personally as friends is very challenging and so I made this my challenge, as well as a promise to the members that I would. DevonBird (as their name suggests) are a local trio comprised of the members, Kathryn Bird (Vocals, Whistle & Guitar), Sophia Colkin (Violin) and Robert Wheaton (Guitar & Vocals).
Turning of the Year is the group's second studio album since they formed in 2011 and is a wonderful album. The songs of Kathryn Bird are heavily influenced and inspired by the local landscape, folklore, legends and the supernatural, all popular themes of a large percentage of folk music, traditional or otherwise. In fact Kath's songs are largely written in the tradition, some of them sounding like they were unearthed from the dusty pages of an ancient ballad book. Local literacy seems to also be an influence, particularly on the lively fan-favourite Greenwood Tree, no doubt a reference to the Thomas Hardy's novel, Under The Greenwood Tree. Seven of the nine tracks are self-penned. The final track, Rebecca Downing’s Lament, is a broadside by T. Briee about a real woman who was condemned to death in Exeter in 1782 for the murder of her master. The album also boasts a traditional set of recognisable tunes, King Of The Fairies / Morrisons Jig. The musicianship is of a very high calibre throughout and notably Sophia's fine fiddle work is expertly woven into the mix.
The album is well-produced, as you would expect from the renowned producer Mark Tucker and he brings extra layers and depth to the trio's essentially simple line-up. Mark himself adds extra instrumentation which includes Bass and Drums and electronic sounds, including an effective choral backing on the fantastic opening track, Star People. The downside of such lush production techniques is that it gives the illusion that the band is more than the sum of its parts and those that are not familiar with the band's live sound may be disappointed, if expecting something emulating the album's sound. It is, however, a common practice among musicians, whether solo artists or bands, to flesh out their sound with reinforcements and I have no problem with this. Luckily, for those that do, there are a couple of tracks which do address the balance and peel away the additional layers, notably, Rose. The benefit of such production is that it does showcase some of the band's other musical influences, that may not have been otherwise evident, particularly Progressive Rock, which I myself also share a love of. Blending prog with folk is not a new thing and continues to be implemented and stretched in modern folk today with the likes of such diverse acts as Bellowhead, Jim Moray, Blackbeard's Tea Party and the earlier days of the now more rock-orientated but superb Mostly Autumn.
DevonBird's sound is also influenced by Fairport Convention, Show of Hands, Cara Dillon and The Levellers. In the past some have been critical of the repetitive sounding song-writing, both musically and lyrically and there are moments in some of these new songs that might be similarly scrutinised, particularly evident, lyrically, on Greenwood Tree, with many words and phrases repeated frequently. While I understand and respect the opinion of those critical I am willing to excuse this as simply being an intentional writing device of someone wishing to write in the tradition. After all, there are plenty of genuine traditional folk songs which repeat words and melodies on every other line and nobody seems too bothered. All that said, Turning Of The Year comes highly recommended, and is a much more accomplished album than their debut, Hangman's Daughter. It is powerful, moving, experimental and interesting and should help to further elevate their status on the folk scene. The band held their album launch at The Barnfield Theatre in Exeter in October and is now available to buy. Website: http://www.devonbird.co.uk/
At last, the eagerly awaited second album from Folk band Devonbird, Turning Of The Year, has been released - and it was worth waiting for! This fine new opus sees the band in full flight; with Kath, Sophia and Rob comfortably melded together as a unit, and spreading their wings confidently enough to encompass Folk music ranging from the Traditional to the Progressive. It is a collection of nine excellent songs - mostly penned by Kath - inspired by local / family history, and legend. Contributions from Soph and Rob have enhanced these songs and honed them to perfection. Possibly my choice for Folk album of the year!PTMQ 23rd June 2015
Hello Isobel, Please pass on our thanks to Devonbird for a great evening yesterday. Having travelled from what, to our way of thinking, was the ends of the Earth (and from their point of view might have seemed to the ends of the Earth), they played an excellent evening of music which held the audience in thrall and the jigs and reels made it seem as though there’d been a sudden outbreak of Parkinson’s as few wanted to sit entirely still. Kath’s songs had so absorbed the character of traditional folk music that it was difficult to spot the joins. We loved it, wish them a glowing future with their music and yet still hope that we can afford a repeat in a year or two when their stardom has really kicked in. Brilliant!Kind regards,Steve Primarolo
“THIS week I popped down to the town of Cardigan to enjoy the Quay Festival. The day promised to combine the vibrancy of live bands with the local beautiful scenery to create a very special bank holiday weekend. Opening the afternoon's events was Devonshire band Devon Bird, a three-piece from the West Country, who definitely brought a touch of folk to the town. Putting music to well known Devonshire poetry and singing tracks from their new album Hangman's Daughter the female strong band with exception of male guitarist certainly wowed the crowd with album titled track Hangman's Daughter finishing their unique set.” Carmathen Journal28 August 2013