By David Broad
David Broad, member of the Leeds Folk Theatre Partisans which also features Fran Rodgers, Michael Rossiter and Benjamin Wetherill, releases his debut EP and, unsurprisingly, it's four tracks of good old-fashioned folk music.
This four track effort is evenly split between covers of other artists' songs, and re-arrangements of traditional folk tunes. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, there's a naivete to much of the song writing, and an abundance of early 1930's turns of phrase, which really are charming.
But, whether traditional or cover, the songs all follow a similar pattern, as Broad assumes either the role of a character from a bygone era - on 'I Ain't Got No Home' it's a wandering worker, on 'St. James Infirmary Blues' it's a man visiting his hospital-ridden sweetheart - or, he casts himself as narrator, to regale us with tragic tales of young girls in love with railroad workers.
The characters and situations couldn't be further removed from the world of today, but therein lies their appeal. These are four tracks of pure escapism.
The two reworkings of traditional songs, are 'St. James Infirmary Blues' and 'The Butcher's Boy.' The latter is the strongest, as Broad recounts the main characters' dialogue word-for-word, and their exclamations of "daughter, daughter, what troubles you?" and "where is daughter? She seems so hurt," are so old-fashioned, they're guaranteed to put a smile on your face. That is, however, until Broad stuns us with the revelation that the song's heroine ended up hanging herself.
A skittering acoustic guitar provides the only musical accompaniment, and its bright, upbeat fluttering never changes, even when the heroine's dad finds her hanging dead in her bedroom. Far from jarring, this draws attention to the intriguing gap between how this song sounds, and what it's actually about. The result is an ending that seems so startlingly out-of-place, it'll make even the casual listener do a double-take, then hit the repeat button to hear this seemingly twee, but actually rather grim, tale again - this time paying more attention.
The simple, blues-infused acoustic strains of second cover, 'St. James Infirmary Blues' sees this song drag itself melancholy along, while Broad laments about his "baby" in utterly convincing fashion. The first half of this song is downbeat country and western that's so severely basic, you can hear every chord in isolation. It's hypnotic, despite the plodding rhythms, and you'll probably find yourself fighting the urge to air-strum along.
Like the other songs on this EP, 'St. James Infirmary Blues's unusual story will hold you captivated, while you tap your foot to the repetitive-but-effective guitar rhythms. Oddly compelling.
Like 'St. James Infirmary Blues,' 'I Ain't Got No Home' isn't really about the music, which is basically just a softly unobtrusive acoustic patter. The focus, as ever, is on the lyrics, and here Broad takes on the persona of a "wandering worker" and treats us to another helping of olde-worlde lyrical quirkiness.
It's by no means a bad song, but it's still the weaker of the four tracks. The story isn't as well-developed as that of 'The Butcher's Boy' and consequently, you'll find yourself listening to 'I Ain't Got No Home' less than the other three.
EP-opener, 'Was I Drunk?' is a delightfully odd song, not least because it was originally sung by Georgia White. This obviously has repercussions in terms of lyrical content. The idea of Broad wistfully wondering, in naive early 1930's style "was I drunk, was he handsome, and did mama give me hell?" is guaranteed to raise a smile. At the very least, it'll make you do a double-take, and is an attention-grabbing choice of opening number.
This four track EP is packed with characters, turns of phrases and situations from the distant past. The songs are all musically very simple and repetitive, but David Broad has the sort of voice that can hold the listener's attention with very little musical accompaniment. It's all surprisingly good fun, even if you don't consider yourself a folk fan.