If you thought social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook were just devices which sucked you into an unstoppable vortex of wasted time, then think again. A chance discussion between Steven Collins and Alison O’Donnell, formerly of legendary Irish prog-folk troupe Mellow Candle, took place on such a website and out of that conversation came the first fruits of this collaboration.
The Fabric of Folk is a 5-track EP featuring Collins’ in his guise as mainman of the Owl Service, one generation of folk-rock crashing head-long into an earlier, glorious era represented here by the considerable vocal talents of Alison O’Donnell. Capturing the many different faces of folk-rock, the five songs here – two are original compositions by the pair, one of which was written with the Straw Bear Band’s Dominic Cooper – are perfectly formed, heartfelt and touching but with more than a hint of darkness.
This follows on from the Owl Service’s previous release for Static Caravan, the Cine 3” CD (VAN 140), and arrives alongside their debut album A Garland of Song, which is being released on Southern Records. Meanwhile, Alison’s former band Mellow Candle have returned to prominence on the back of the newly repackaged Swaddling Songs – their solitary album release – which has been remastered and reissued by Esoteric/Cherry Red.
Inspired by a mutual recognition and respect, the pairing of Collins’ band with O’Donnell is a dreamy combination. Imbued with a sense of revivalism, The Fabric of Folk is far from backward-looking and instead concocts something incredibly new which, while referencing the production techniques and masterful storytelling of Brit-folk’s heyday, is bubbling with new ideas and an inherent knack for crafting sublime arrangements.
Revisiting the old and turning into something fresh and unfamiliar is certainly the case on the traditional folk songs which are reworked here, William & Earl Richard’s Daughter and Flodden Field. Book-ended by the two new compositions, the EP also features a two-minute instrumental track entitled Scarlet Threads & Silver Needles, where Celtic harp and organ swells add to the light, twinkling mood.
Opening track The Wooden Coat is eerie and insidious, built around a circular melody, and creeps with a dark and sinister feel. Repeated melody patterns add to the uncomfortable atmosphere; a sense of foreboding that something unpleasant is only just around the corner, and Alison’s vocals perfectly capture that unsettling mood.
The Fabric of Life, the closing track, is in stark contrast to this, Collins and co conjuring a tender piano-led lament, adorned with Alison O’Donnell’s sweet tones, all of which leads to an almost choral climax. It’s an exquisitely poignant denouement, and tugs at the heartstrings in ways that would make other songwriters bristle with envy.
Alison O’Donnell will join the Owl Service for a small number of dates this summer, including at the Green Man Festival, but in the meantime this EP symbolises a fascinating committee meeting of two different generations of folk music, coalescing to create a sparkling and spectacular record.
For fans of Tunng as much as Fairport and Mellow Candle. A must have for anybody with a Harvest; Dawn; Vertigo or Deram jag.
Gatefold Card Sleeve in an edition of 1000 copies. Ltd promo in card sleeve.