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Joshua Burnell - The Road To Horn Fair (Misted Valley Records)

Star rating: 

Joshua Burnell started recording this record in 2015, quickly after INTO THE GREEN and before THE SEASONS PROJECT, his last album. This is a culmination, at least so far, of his interest in Folk song and Folk Music. From the start it is clear there is a joy in the songs, a joy in the playing and definitely a joy in the listening. Mark Radcliffe has sung the album's praises in his Radio Two Folk Show and it is easy to see why. 

THE ROAD TO HORN FAIR opens with a perfectly constructed ensemble You vocal on Pastime With Good Company. It sits rather like A Calling On Song at the start of Steeleye Span's first outing, or Come All Ye at the start of Fairport Convention's. Like both of those perennial Folk Rock albums, Pastime With Good Company is quickly underpinned by a tight muscular electric Folk Rock and the end is a fiery, swaggering powerhouse version this traditional song running into Berkshire Tragedy the next track. Like Offa Rex the band collaboration between Olivia Chaney and The Decemberists, Berkshire Tragedy and the whole ROAD TO HORN FAIR album seethes with the taught energy of classic 70’s Folk Rock and Prog Rock. There are those huge intricate drums, big guitar chords, spirited vocals, the bounce of a well primed and well rehearsed band. The spirit of Folk Psych, Steeleye Span, The Trees, Fairport Convention and the tight musicianship and power of 70s Jethro Tull is never far away. This is like someone catching a ball thrown from the early 70s and running a fresh with it. Cold Haily Windy Night features great guitar and superb vocals from Joshua and Frances Sladen. It sits perfectly between the dark Psychedelia of Steeleye Span mark two's version on PLEASE TO SEE THE KING and the utter majesty of Chris Wood and Eliza Carthy's take on the first Imagined Village album. It is a masterstroke of fine vocals, Burrell's unrelenting percussion and a pervasive Prog Rock vibe that is compelling.

Plane Tree And Tenpenny Bit is an unbelievably tight instrumental, that mixes Genesis Nursery Cryme keyboards, amazing timing and those driving slight punk guitars of The Horslips. Just listening to it is tiring, must be a blast to play. Ah Robin, Gentyl Robin marries beautiful John Renbourn early music vocals with a seething dark atmosphere and some edgy guitar. I last heard this track on Ian King's (whatever happened to him) utterly classic PANIC GRASS AND FEVER FEW. Sitting on some huge bass from Matthew Mefford, Joshua Burnell constructs that song that rises and falls, while creating great atmosphere and tension. The Knight And The Shepherdess is a Child Ballard 110 and was apparently popular during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First. The rendition here is a rollicking, folk rock, joyous barn dance of a song with some fine fiddle. Drowsy Maggie And Rakish Paddy puts muscular drums and Hammond Organ behind the sweet fiddle delivering some omph and the raw rock and rumble of Full House era Fairport Convention. There is more than a tenuous connection, with Rakish Paddy being in the instrumental medley on LIEGE AND LIEF. The band continues to soar, like its a 1969 Deep Purple or Folk Rock album on Raggle Taggled Gypsy, with Josh in absolutely fine voice. Horn Fair is a delicate waltz lullaby and beautiful for it. Cam Ye O'er Frae France & The Musical Priest is a rollicking roller coast ride through this political song. The spirit of Ian Anderson at his most Roland Kirk rund through it and the whole track just cooks. 

The faux Medieval cover and the inventive castleations on the cover, like a period Steeleye Span or Jethro Tull album sleeve show an affection for the period and the feel of amped up 70’s Folk Rock and Prof. However the energy, vim and sheer oomph of the playing are compelling, connecting back to a form that has power and a vigour in the hands of Joshua Burnell. Like Offa Rex this manages to be part homage and part joyful journey onwards. More power to it I say.

Marc Higgins 
Northern Sky