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ALBUM OF THE MONTH: Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage - Awake (Sungrazing Records)

Star rating: 
5

Most who stumble upon the voice of Hannah Sanders agree that there's a purity to it, which is a rare thing. You believe every word she sings, whether the songs are from the tradition or whether they've been thought up and written down by contemporary minds. The effect is very much the same. Dylan once said "know your song well before you start singing" and you know instinctively, with a voice like this, Hannah knows these songs inside out. Ben Savage skitters around with extraordinary empathy both in his vocal textures and instrumental prowess. Sitting down to listen to anything by this duo is as easy as making a cup of tea, opening a book or nodding gently in an armchair. AWAKE reminds us of something we tend to sometimes forget, the reason why people do this, why people sing and why people listen. 

There's eleven songs here, six of which are Hannah and Ben originals, whilst the others are either arrangements of familiar traditional songs or songs written by folk song royalty, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger for instance. A pretty faithful reading of Woody Guthrie's Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, with Billy Bragg's Mermaid Avenue tune still attached, feels very much like the definitive version, and it may well be. Likewise, Pete Seeger's One Grain of Sand comes across as both beautifully arranged and hauntingly sublime, whilst 7 takes a wander through nursery rhyme territory, revisiting the 'One for Sorrow' motif in a most touching way. Then there's the instrumental side of this duo's repertoire, with Every Night When the Sun Goes Down, featuring Ben's seasoned command over the Dobro. Accompanied by a series of monochrome Tarot cards, the twelve-page booklet perfectly illustrates the songs that appear on this truly gorgeous album.  

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky