The Idumea Quartet- “More Than One” Review

Classical musicians take on the Appalachians and win while still dressed in their tuxedos and ballgowns.

Release Date – 9th April 2020, relisted to 1st November 2020

Label – Penny Fiddle Records

Like an inhale of peppermint-laced breath, The Idumea Quartet’s debut album offering is a spicy yet cooling work whose self-description of “tradition, innovation and whimsy in equal measure” is pretty much on the money. Comprising of Ewan Macdonald (violin), Jane Rothfield (violin, vocals), Rebecca Wolfe (Viola, vocals) and Nathan Bontager (cello, vocals), this fearless foursome have engaged in some considered work in applying their classical trained skills to reworking Appalachian folk music. 

Credit: David Rynkowski

You see, while this album is a sustained effort of chamber-folk it has its share of whimsy too. It is the kind of shake-up that makes this album like a flash of the magician’s deck of cards, and therefore something interesting indeed. The refreshing nature of “More Than One” is perhaps that brilliant friend you have who wears flowers in her hair and is often seen vaulting into the middle of a sardine packed dance floor full of energy and vitality. To look at her you might think that spontaneity is ill-informed, but she has done this many times and has the experience to back-up the novelty. Let us look at the tracks and see this in action.

The first is an excellent set of “Falls of Richmond/Grub Springs”. We particularly love this version of “Falls of Richmond” which whilst sticking close to how you expect the tune of the James River and small waterfalls therein, the training and orchestral bent of the quartet are here to enjoy. It isn’t played super-fast, the tune can be savoured and enjoyed as the parts all converge, rise and fall into the springier “Grub Springs”. A joy to begin, though potentially misleading like the pleasant ambience of walking into a sauna, things are going to get hotter quickly. Unlike a sauna though where it generally just gets very very hot, you do not expect what is to come here.

Next, for example, there is a great version of the Christian Gospel “Fall on my knees”. Beginning as the solemn take you would imagine it quickly transforms from cautious caterpillar to soaring Red Admiral Butterfly as the call of the thumping cello emerges and the pace picks up. It has the feeling of a spontaneous jam by the smoking camp-fire with its share of red medium-rare vocals and inquiring violin. More a shared bond of life than an overt call for a higher power, it’s humanist overtones are warm and inviting. In fact one could argue that the group’s cover of the Bluegrass song “Cluck Old Hen” is more religious in sentiments. Apart from the odd vocal flourish that slips the disguise a little, it feels like you are more in the house of God than the Henhouse. In fact in terms of reverence and introspection (about laying eggs) this song is on it’s way towards being like “The Old Churchyard” in feel. The interpretation brings with it a sense of desperation, resignation and the idea dancing on a poor family’s lips as to whether this hen’s fortunes turn round or it becomes the family’s last taste of meat before the cold hits. Bold and interesting, it is worth checking out. 

Carthy Hoose in contrast is a light delight of a tune. While airy in general feel, the violin and cello strings feel embedded like weighty iron train tracks; you can almost hear the cry of Mountain life outside the clattering carriage shutters. This steam engine starts as a formal dance but chuffs its way into the rural circle, champagne gives way to good old-time bourbon and a good time is had by all. Joy on several levels the track is brimming with movement and chi and it is also our favourite tune and track on the album.

We are also treated to a version of “Sally Anne” which is an interesting diversion sans banjo (as you might normally hear it). Quite dense musically, intentionally or unintentionally the backing vocals kind of sound like they are in the wind with so many overlapping strings dominating your senses. Kudos to the sound design and production on this track as I could easily imagine this recording falling down under its own weight under lesser hands. The sound production throughout the album (mixed by Jason Alder, mastered by Sam Proctor) is very good, you can hear the life that all the strings have of their own, in a way the disc seems to shine a spotlight on the instrumentation slightly more than the vocals, but for a classically trained ensemble this is exactly what you want. Except once again the band diverge from this notion with the next track..

It is of course the Idumea Quartet’s version of “Silver Dagger”. Up to now it would be difficult to predict how they choose to approach this song of high renown as the Quartet like to play with the blocks of form. It is safe to say it is treated well, sung with deep emotion and a backing musical overture which is like a dawn’s chorus as it grows from humble rays to fuller shining sun. We admit “Silver Dagger” is not our favourite song (I know, shock horror there), but we recognise the skill in which this old faithful dog has been taught some new(ish) tricks.

This album is like a wild hare. One moment it stands on its hind legs majestically austere as it surveys the scene, you turn your back for a second and the next time you look it is frollicking and springing into the air with festivity.There are musical conventions and consistant choices that could have legitimately made the disc a particular sound to fulfill a particular desire (pure fans of the Appalachian Folk)  but, to our personal relief it is playful and inventive as well as being competent and traditional.

Check out some videos below, you can purchase the album from BandCamp

Keep an eye on their website and social media to see when they are touring near you, they are currently rescheduling due to the Coronvirus outbreak.

Album/EP Reviews British Modern Arrangement Sea Folk

Kate Rusby – Life in a Paper Boat (album review)

Artist: Kate Rusby

Pure Records

An album of precise and selective instrumentation that concisely builds atmosphere and quality. Kate Rusby continues her good works through effectively combining traditional words and material with modern arrangements with a final product that impresses across the board.

Kate Rusby as we know is pretty much a folk music staple now. She has won practically all of the BBC2 Radio Folk Awards in a number of categories (Best Live Act, Best Album, Best Original Song, Folk Singer of the Year) to the point where she might have to create a new identity so she can have a stab at the Horizon Award too. It is well-deserved though, she started long before the recent notable boom in folk-pop and is very much a celebrity in these Yorkshire parts alongside Fay Hield and Nancy Kerr (and several others of course) in what could probably be considered the real “Northern Powerhouse”. On her 14th Studio Album (getting over unlucky 13 for some, but not really her) and nearly 25  years in music she brings “Life in a Paper Boat” with a continued humility and charm.


To begin it has to be mentioned that the album artwork is a pleasure to behold. Dark yet colourful on the outside and adorned with paper cut-outs and folds inside there is a playful element to the work that sits alongside the more serious matter of it’s high quality production and photography. The album itself is bright and on listening is quite sensory, it  feels like a series of images are springing up all around and the artist herself to some extent is revelling in her inner child of curiosity. History, myth and wonder are very much a part of what is happening here and can be felt in the skeleton of this endeavour. It does not fully let itself loose though, several of the tracks are grounded in good folk providence and the disc never feels like it strays far from classical influences. For example, the recognisable figures such as “The Ardent Shepherdess”, “The Mermaid”, and “The Witch of Westmorland”  as more fantastical elements are all very present within this musical tapestry.
Producer Damien O’Kane steps with confidence in his job here as the subjects of the songs vary quite considerably between universal tales of love and more traditional and local content (Pace Egging Song). Much of the album is gentle in nature and aims to persuade by leading the listener through a scented garden rather than shouting down suggestions from a political soapbox.
The album has incredible wide appeal, it is not chic folk or folk music which longs to the gloom and misery it has a strong melody and comes at you with it’s arms wide open. It is accessible but also appeals to history and despite some of the heavier topic within, Kate’s trademark storytelling goes for the heart strings  and manages this with a great deal of success.


On listening, “Benjamin Bowmaneer” is my favourite opening track of an album this year, no questions asked.  The modern drum and golden percussion coupled with Kate’s sirenesque voice brings a character and life to the tailor in the song who goes to war with a horse made of board. An Autumn feeling track it benefits from the artist having one hand creating a fun, believable legend and having one foot where she treads the battlegrounds of old England in the Hundred Years War. It also showcases the album to come with it’s purposeful choices of creating programmed electric drumming (Josh Clark), electric guitar and accompanying strings throughout which gives it a luscious, rolling quality. When you get on to the disc you get a delightful opportunity to hear an artist deep in her stride with music which is warm-heartedness that is traditional in subject but with a modern and attention provoking musical composition. For example, the use of electric guitar and banjo in “The Mermaid” is slight in form in that despite the expected lyrical love for the sea, the ambience created from the instrument feels more like the sun-bleached backing from some late 90’s dance-pop I’ve experienced. Saying this does not to discredit the tune or it’s folk origins, for me the memories of the sun and carefree love of life  was triggered by the unexpected use of these strings here and it certainly brings images of the coast which is certainly part of the sensory intention of the work. Rusby’s voice is particularly seeking in this track and combined with the more tightly wove backing sound sound it constructs the simplicity of an image of the sea, the waves and the joy all together in one place.


“The Ardent Shepardess” is quite a complex piece with a rich, leathery string soundscape that deepens all involved. Rusby’s voice is empathic and open, the double bass (Duncan Lyall) is earthy, the banjo (Ron Block) is positively electrifying in execution. The old words combine with Rusby’s tune and it all melds together, fiddles and all in a warming number that spins and impresses. “I’ll be Wise” is likewise a sweet number with continued great strings. The double bass is almost like a heart beat as it plays a counterpoint to Rusby’s defiance of cooler reasoning (of head over heart) within the song, “There I see him, I swore I’d walk on by him, but I cannot resist and stop to eye him.” The other fiddles (Donald Grant and Magnus Johnston), viola (Triona Milne) and cello (Laura Anstee) shine as well. Like “The Mermaid”, it is as an example of the disc with a large number of instruments but with a trimmed output sound, or at least a producer (Damien O’Kane) who has recognised that less is sometimes more (it certainly is here). It is sharp and distinct. The sound of “Life in a Paper Boat” does not wash up and roll muddy on the shore, it feels instead like a fine wooden vessel skirting the briny sea on a fresh September morning.

The song at the heart of the album (of the same name) “Life in a Paper Boat” is affecting and timely; managing to convey the fragility, sadness and desperation in the refugee situation with just a few words. The synth in this track casts a slightly spectral, somber feel which sets a scene for the subject who is praying for a ray of inner hope during his predicament. He has lost his wife and the “ancient land I’ve left behind in ruins”, the track focuses on the positivity and light in the situation for that person. It makes you think, but it is not a song that guilt-trips or attempts to point fingers outwards, it just looks inwards to the refugee’s mindset and seeks to create a connection with the listening audience. Penetrating, on-point and as direct to the issues and feelings as possible, it is a song that soothes like a balm on the burning marked skin of society’s conscience. Stirring and mindful it is what is needed for an individual’s quiet reflection of the issue.



The last track I will talk about is of course the excellent “Big Brave Bill”. When I described Kate Rusby as invoking the inner child, she certainly does here and takes it to the highest level with this song. The song started out as a bedtime story for her children and grew into Bill, a superhero from Barnsley who likes Yorkshire Tea (I can’t stand the stuff but I’m not originally from Yorkshire, so what do I know). He saves people from many notable places in the area such as Cannon Hall Park and further afield in Mallorca (when there is a bad brew was on it’s way) and is unashamedly Yorkshire while he does it. It must certainly have been a guilty pleasure for Kate to write and sing but it is really good, a lovely bit of fanciful myth-making. The whole track is charming and accomplished and as she says it is “truly” a celebration of Yorkshire identity in a lighthearted, highly spirited way. It’s energy and humour does leave me asking if it ever helped her children sleep at night or if it made them jump up and down on the bed a lot instead!


Throughout the album Kate Rusby’s voice is a sweet undertaking of the finest kind. Some through recent folk history might compare her tones to the light touch of honey or cream or some other swirling, tasty molasses; I actually see the overall sensory analogy as being rather like lemon meringue. As sacchariferous as some could claim her songs are, the key to Kate Rusby’s attraction is her shifting centre, Lemon meringue is sweet but also a touch sharp and the creator of such a thing decides on the balance of two. The title track itself “Life in a paper boat” is serious, is harsh and very real in that it depicts the refugee experience. Rusby doesn’t hand out a lemon and make the situation sour, there is more to it and I think she has a singular skill for eliciting empathy from the audience. The album’s mixing compliments her voice too, it never overpowers or really comes close to drowning out the voice track. There are never any doubts about where Rusby can be heard and this is a great indicator of talent all-round as Rusby favours clarity over volume, and if this album is anything to go off, there is still quite a lot to hear yet from Yorkshire’s heartlands from this artist. Check this album out, it a a nice addition to this year’s releases.


  1. Benjamin Bowmaneer
  2. Hunter Moon
  3. The Ardent Shepherdess
  4. Life In a Paper Boat
  5. Only Desire What you Have
  6. Hundred Hearts
  7. The Mermaid
  8. Pace Egging Song
  9. The Witch of Westmorland
  10. I’ll Be Wise
  11. Night Lament
  12. (BONUS) Big Brave Bill

Life In a Paper Boat was released on 7 October, 2016. She is on tour! Check out the image below and her website here, for more details