The first thing you notice about ‘The Road To Horn Fair’ is the beautiful artwork that adorns the CD cover. Lovingly created by artist Randy Asplund it is spread across a folded die cut cover that when opened reveals a medieval castle complete with coded verses on the reverse in medieval runes. The enclosed disk combined with the inlay artwork serves as a clever translator device, which will no doubt provide hours of entertainment for linguistic experts. There’s also an exciting “Coming Soon” indicating that the next release is something to get very excited about.
However, we aren’t here to review the cover of the record!
‘The Road To Horn Fair’ was recorded before Burnell’s last release ‘Songs For The Seasons’ and then put on the back burner as that project took off. As with that project, once again, Burnell has mined the depths of folk music history to deliver another highly enjoyable and entertaining collection of folk-rock whimsical tales.
Opening with ‘Pastime With Good Company’, complete with tongue in check writing credit for Henry VIII, the acapella introduction is very reminiscent of Jethro Tull’s ‘Songs From The Woods’. ‘Berkshire Tragedy’ follows seamlessly and sets up the listener for the musical odyssey ahead. Most notable on this record are the tight and intertwined lead vocal harmonies of Burnell and Frances Sladen which feature on the majority of the songs and are not unlike the harmonious vocal pairing of folk legends Nancy Kerr and John Faulkner, whose work with a certain saggy old cloth cat introduced millions of children to the joys of the medium of folk music as storytelling vehicle in the 1970s.
Indeed, Kerr, Faulkner and Martin Carthy are credited in the sleeve notes as influences on songs such as ‘Berkshire Tragedy’ and ‘Cold Dark Windy Night’.
If there’s a difference this time around from the ‘Seasons’ record then it is that this collection is more folk-rock heavy that the progressive style of previous release. The two rousing instrumentals with their frantic electric guitar and fiddle work are fine examples of the rockier tone, one of which might possibly be the most “modern” of all the songs in the collection, ‘Plane Tree & Tenpenny Bit’ has been sourced back to the 1980s, while ‘Drowsy Maggie & Rakish Paddy’ is most likely from the mid-19th century. That’s practically pop music for an artist who revels in works that in some cases are more than three hundred years old!
It’s hard to pick out favourites on this record such are the quality of songs, but the folk driven ‘The Knight & The Shepherdess’ spins an enjoyable melodic mischievous yarn about a not so gallant Knight paying for his indiscretions while ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ stands out for Burnell’s keyboard work which, combined with the pumping bass line reminds the listener of the work that JJ Burnel and Dave Greenfield did on early Stranglers albums.
‘The Road To Horn Fair’ is a work of beauty from cover to content. Burnell is passionate and knowledgeable about this music and along with his band of merry minstrels continues the work began by folk alumni such as Nancy Kerr, Martin Carthy, and Fairport Convention of keeping the music alive and making it accessible to new audiences.
‘The Road To Horn Fair’ is available now on Misted Valley Records.