Folk music, in the traditional sense, has a long and varied past. I’m always a little bit dubious when people try to overly modernise it, plenty have tried in the past with varying degrees of success. So it was with a little trepidation that I set out to listen to Sam Lee’s debut release Ground Of Its Own. Not that I need to have worried, Lee has created a record that is simply exquisite, the perfect mix of tradition and innovation.
Lee himself is a pretty remarkable individual, a graduate of the Chelsea College of Art; Lee abandoned his job as a visual artist, survival skills teacher (taught by Ray Mears no less) and intermittent burlesque dancer to undertake a musical apprenticeship with Scottish traveller and balladeer Stanley Robertson. From him and over the course of four years, Lee inherited a vast repertoire of songs, some of which make up the tracks on this album.
Ground Of Its Own is in some ways quite a gentle record, unobtrusive, but instantly memorable. It opens strongly with “The Ballad of George Collins”, a song originally collected by Bob Copper from Enos White a Sussex shepherd. Whilst Lee’s interpretation brings it into the modern day, with flashes of electronica splashed intermittently amongst the folk instrumentation, it somehow doesn’t feel forced. “On Yonder Hill”, the second track in, is another favourite of mine, Lee’s vocal delivery is languid and unhurried, whilst a lone trumpet drifts over the top of some very ethereal percussion.
The instrumentation throughout the album is impressive, perfectly accompanying the tracks, always accentuating the lyrics, but never detracting or drawing attention away from them. From the hauntingly beautiful violin in “Wild Wood Amber” to the Jew’s harp in “The Jew’s Garden”, the arrangements are near pitch perfect, even those instruments that you might not necessarily associate with the genre work well.
Ground Of Its Own, was a surprising delight, an exquisite record, one, which heralds a bright new talent into the folk music world, and the greater music community at large. With such a large collection of songs at his disposal, I doubt this will be the last we hear from Sam Lee.
Review Score: 9.2/10