On Record – House And Land – Across The Field (Thrill Jockey)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

House And Land are from North Carolina, and Across The Field is their second album. The duo – guitarist and instrumentalist Sarah Louise Henson and fiddle / banjo player Sally Anne Morgan – present traditional folk music recast into today’s world.

What’s the music like?

Deceptive. If you listen to the first minute or two of Across The Field it is easy to underestimate the emotions House And Land are capable of conveying, but by the time you get to the rippling guitar of Rainbow Mid Life’s Willows you will have fallen hook, line and sinker for the duo’s fresh faced vocals and imaginative instrumental responses.

That song in particular hits the sweetest spot of emotion, with Morgan’s double-stopped fiddle the perfect foil to Henson’s vocal and 12-string acoustic guitar. It is a rich tapestry of colours, but these orchestrations never get in the way of the song’s message.

House and Land “Across the Field” Album Trailer from Thrill Jockey Records on Vimeo.

The heart of their music is Appalachia, the duo creating their landscape with delicate shades and colours, but some of their music draws from across the Atlantic. Blacksmith shows the duo’s homage to the great Shirley Collins, a close harmony duet over a drone which is then dressed with glockenspiel. There follows a powerful instrumental track Carolina Lady, from past Madison resident Dillard Chandler, which features earthy guitar and Morgan’s fiddle rising through the textures as it takes on an improvised air.

Collins is again the source for the final Ca The Yowes, and here Henson’s alto recorder sets the evocative scene, while Morgan’s banjo shadows the vocals. It is a haunting yet curiously uplifting coda to the album.

Does it all work?

Across The Field is a powerful and deeply personal piece of work. It may be that the voices are on occasion too shrill for headphone listeners, but that’s more a question of the listener acquainting themselves with the tones than the singers needing to compromise. The songs themselves retain their traditional heart but updated for today are very emotive and winningly sung. The inventive and constantly rewarding instrumentation is a treat, always responsive to the substance of each song.

Is it recommended?

Yes, and I speak as very much an occasional listener to folk music. Across The Field inhabits a rarefied space few albums are able to reach.

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