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Stephanie Hladowski and C. Joynes – The Wild Wild Berry


Stephanie Hladowski & C. Joynes - The Wild Wild BerryHere we have a collection of British folk song interpretations by guitarist Chris Joynes and singer Stephanie Hladowski. Without even listening to this album, one can’t help recall the inspiring union of singer Shirley Collins and guitarist Davey Graham on the 1964 album Folk Roots, New Routes – a regular spinner in my car’s CD player.

From listening to The Wild Wild Berry, I find my deconstructive mind pondering the words ‘New Routes’ in Collins’ and Graham’s album title. When comparing the two albums, it’s hard to find what’s new in the approach of Hladowski and Joynes’ 2012 British folk interpretations. However, this leads me to think: why fix something that doesn’t need mending? There’s a whole stream of contemporary folk artists out there fooling around with complicated studio effects and electronics that could never get to the pure heart of the songs that’s achieved here. The interpretations are executed with a marked respect for the tradition and showcase the subtle nuances of the individual players.

The whole painting by numbers approach to learning traditional songs suggests an empty soullessness or lack of creativity. However this music is far from empty and highlights the apparent fact that the magic of effective music abides by no law of creation. The tracks were chosen on the basis of the love and inspiration of their original performances; yet there’s clearly no pure copying going on. A slightly different path has been chosen each time, but never for the sake of it; I guess that’s an inevitable consequence of adaptation. Joynes’s guitar has a muffled organic tone while Stephanie’s voice shows a rigid strength with warm, rounded edges.

While we’re on the subject of song creation, in a recent interview I conducted with another guitarist Cian Nugent, who has also performed with Stephanie Hladowski in the past, we talked about his composition technique and we got onto the subject of learning and adapting traditional songs. He cited this as one of the many tools for creating new compositions.

These songs were hand picked by the duo from Joynes’s personal archive of C90 cassette tapes that contained around 200 field recordings, smuggled out by an inside contact at Cecil Sharp House since the 1990s.
I had the pleasure of listening to these original recordings and it made me wish that they could be included with this album, as listening to them back to back only enriches the interpretations. Some of these field recordings such as “Flash Company” sound as though they have been recorded in the back room of a pub. While the singers of these recordings from the early 1900s might not have the vocal command of Hladowski, they impart the pure minded intent of the individual, which comes right out of the speakers and paints a portrait of the person, taking us back in time, to the room where they were recorded.

The album’s title echoes the title of Hladowski’s first ‘solo’ outing The High High Nest (out on Singing Knives Records) which coincidently was a collaboration with another Chris, her brother. Joynes’s playing is toned down on the whole, only occasionally stepping to the front in a way that compliments the singer and songs. One of the most pleasantly surprising revelations to come out of listening to these original recordings was comparing Joynes’s version of “Greensleeves” (not the version that makes you want to buy bread). Back in the day before Facebook and getting wasted, the chosen pastime of the youth was to ‘get busy’ in the bushes, hence the ‘green sleeves’ of the procreators. Joynes’s version has a cool, jolly swing, while the original is a jig for Morris dancers on violin. Words fail me when trying to describe the reason why its so joyous comparing these two versions, I just can’t explain it. All I can say is go dig it out and find out for yourself. [“Greensleeves,” Stephen Baldwin, Classic Recordings of English Traditional Music Vol. I, Topic Records]

The strongest tune lad down here for me is “Died for love,” so simple and effective that it cuts right though. Hladwoski’s voice shows a shaky vulnerability that justly compliments the song’s tone and feeling. Apparently recorded in the first take, Simon Loynes (The Doozer) reflects on the time when it was recorded in the studio: “I do remember that I was struck at the time because it was a beautiful moment captured, and that’s all it needed to be…”

Stephanie Hladowski has been nominated for The Spiral Award 2013 in the categories Best Female Singer and Best Début Album; get voting here:

-Harry Wheeler-


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