FolkWorld #68 03/2019
© Dai Woosnam

Salt House: Undersong

A most interesting second album from this Scots band, with a slightly different line up from their first album some 5 or 6 years ago. And it is an album that oozes integrity and class.

Salt House

Artist Video Salt House @ FROG

Lauren MacColl @ FROG
Ewan MacPherson @ FROG

First the line up change. The quartet is now a trio: Ewan MacPherson and Lauren MacColl remain, with the addition of lead vocalist Jenny Sturgeon, who replaces Siobhan Miller.

If you could assign a colour to this CD, then that colour would not be the blue of sadness; nor the black of depression; nor the green of new ventures; nor the white of innocence; and certainly not the red of treading dangerous new ground.

No the colour would be ...yellow. And not a bright canary yellow, but a decidedly mellow yellow. The kind of yellow I always associate with Kate Rusby’s artiste who - come to think of it – has a very similar vocal DNA to Jenny’s, and has done very well out of mellow yellow, so Salt House should not see that as adverse criticism on my part.

Most of the tracks are original songs written by the group; three more are compositions based on classics from the tradition (both in literature and song, but given music composed by group members).

The best way to approach this album is to come in after a hard day, put it on your CD player, and just unwind by letting the songs wash over you. Curiously relaxing. The harmonies are spot-on, and their musicianship eschews the “flashy” in favour of the authoritative (whilst still understated).

Best track? That old favourite I Sowed Some Seeds (Roud Number: 914) with an additional verse and new melody from Ewan. Any duds? None...but one disappointment: Robert Frost’s iconic poem The Road Not Taken. Not that Lauren does a bad job with her melody: she doesn’t.

Salt House: Undersong

Salt House "Undersong", Make Believe, 2018

But we should wonder why it is that poems almost never make good song lyrics: for instance why has a Shakespeare sonnet never been really successfully set to music? I respectfully suggest to Lauren that it is because they were never written with music in mind – unlike say the words of Robert Burns – and putting the words to sit on the lines of the musical stave, is akin to putting a fish on a bicycle and expecting it to ride.

No, give me Robert Frost reading the poem any day. Yes I know, that his monotone, dry-us-dust, New Hampshire farmer’s drawl, made it sound like he was reciting the telephone directory. But I have always found that voice with its deliberate avoidance of artificial poetic diction, as enormously engaging.

I was up at his remote rented homestead The Frost Place near Franconia in New Hampshire, at dusk in April 2012, and all the tourists and staff had just gone for the night. Just me and my companion. We could hear the grass grow.

And I stood on the porch of his homestead and declaimed this poem to the birds and the trees. I hope that the great man smiled down on me.

But I promise you, had I tried to sing it: then the heavens would have opened.

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Salt House (unknown/website).

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