New review: Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker
Holly Combe // 13 August 2013
In their four years working together, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker have received plenty of recognition and yet are still arguably one of the best-kept secrets in the field of contemporary folk music. Helen G has a listen to the recently released Fire and Fortune and is impressed with the duo’s articulate lyrics and breaking down of musical boundaries
“There is certainly a difference between my songs and a lot of the traditional songs we do and when placing them side by side on an album I have wondered whether the juxtaposition might be jarring to the listener.”
It’s exactly this mix of old and new that imbues Josienne and Ben’s music with a sense of both timelessness and contemporaneity which is unique amongst their peers. It’s a combination which has been explored by other folk musicians before them but, it must be said, with little success, either creative or commercial. The only example that springs readily to my mind is Fairport Convention, particularly during the years of the late 1960s and early 1970s when Sandy Denny fronted the band. Indeed, Josienne’s voice – clear and musical, with a phenomenal range – does, on occasion, suggest that Sandy Denny is an influence. Be that as it may, it’s an influence which has been absorbed and transcended.
Josienne has a highly individual and captivating voice which is displayed to great effect on Fire & Fortune, their third joint release. Together with intelligent and articulate lyrics focusing on the politics of the personal and Ben Walker’s stunning musicianship, there is a strong awareness of the history and traditions of folk music. However, they are also never afraid to take chances, either in their arrangements of the pre-existing material or in their own songs and lyrics. The boundaries between the familiar and the new are effortlessly broken down and rebuilt and the result is a sound which is both intimate and spacious. These elements come together from the start of the album and reappear throughout, weaving everything together as a seamless whole, while still allowing each song’s individual identity to stand out…
Album cover. Josienne (left) lounges sideways in an old-fashioned looking brown/white sofa chair on a beige floor. Her legs are draped over the right arm and she appears to be deep in thought. She wears a burnt orange dress [Edit: this relates to the shade of the dress] and matching flat slip-on shoes with black tights. Ben stands to the right of the chair, behind Josienne, clasping his right wrist with his left hand and looking to his left. He wears a black shirt, black velvet waistcoat, black trousers and brown lace-up shoes. He is casting a slight shadow on the starkly plain and light orange wall behind.
The writing in the top left corner reads “Fire & Fortune” (with an increasing line indentation for each word and the “F”, “&” and “F” in a forward sloping joined up style). “Josienne Clarke and & Ben Walker” is written directly underneath in smaller type.