Review: V.A. - We Bring You a King with a Head of Gold (2010)


artist: Vari­ous Artists
release: We Bring You a King with a Head of Gold
format: 2x CD
year of release: 2010
label: Cold Spring
dur­a­tion: 2:25:42

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

We Bring You a King with a Head of Gold is the long-awaited sequel to the excel­lent John Bar­ley­corn Reborn com­pil­a­tion released sev­eral years ago. Again Cold Spring does the hon­ours of releas­ing a com­pil­a­tion of Brit­ish folk, though this time without the sadly defunct Woven Wheat Whis­pers. Like before, the har­vest is two CDs full of con­tem­por­ary folk tunes from dif­fer­ent areas of the genre, ran­ging from tra­di­tional and par­tic­u­larly revival-inspired songs to selec­tion of more exper­i­mental works.

Com­pared to the com­pil­a­tion that went before, I must admit I find this one a little bit dis­ap­point­ing. The nearly two and a half hours run­ning time con­tains a lot of tracks that are aver­age or lacklustre, and I also miss a bit of the diversity that was present on John Bar­ley­corn Reborn. Some artists on We Bring You a King… are simply of mediocre qual­ity, and oth­ers mar their per­form­ance with a cer­tain kind of naive atav­ism or lim­ited form of tra­di­tion­al­ism, bend­ing folk to a sort of preachy path which doesn’t appeal to me in any way.

Thank­fully, both discs con­tain a good num­ber of excep­tions to this gen­eral impres­sion, of which I will high­light a few. Bar­ron Brady starts off the album with a solid rhythmic tune, excel­lent male and female vocals and an ori­ginal set of lyr­ics. We find nice rich instru­ment­a­tion on “Blood and Bones” by The Roman Amber Mill, a good example of the music­ally exper­i­mental folk I would have liked to hear more of on this album. Tony Wake­ford is usu­ally a good call in that depart­ment as well, and “The Devil” is no excep­tion, being an ori­gin­ally executed track in the style of The Triple Tree. Sproatly Smith are one of the pleas­ant sur­prises for me, who bring a very fine exper­i­mental ambi­ent folk tune that makes me inter­ested in the rest of their work. The rest of the first disc ranges from pretty decent to dis­ap­point­ing, with “Jack the Mom­met” by Philip But­ler and Nata­sha Tranter being a nice excep­tion, a clas­sical guitar-based folk track with excel­lent sup­ple­mental instru­ment­a­tion that is also spot-on in terms of atmo­sphere.

The second disc is sim­il­arly filled with aver­age mater­ial inter­spersed with some nice high­lights. Autumn Grieve is one, with the beau­ti­ful mys­tic “Within Hol­lows” taken from the won­der­ful Stray Birds EP. Another fun track is “The Song of the Fates” by The Fates, an a capella myth­o­lo­gical nar­rat­ive with a not unpleas­ant six­ties nos­tal­gia feel to it. Sedayne and his wife Rachel McCar­ron are a couple that always deliver the goods as well, with a sound that remains abso­lutely unique in mod­ern folk. We hear three tracks from dif­fer­ent pro­jects here, as Sedayne : Sun­dog, Venereum Arvum and Dem­dyke, all worth­while, par­tic­u­larly the lat­ter. A final men­tion goes to the mod­ern singer/songwriter folk style of Ruby Throat, a female voice in the area of Marissa Nadler or Wood­pecker Woo­liams.

All in all, I found John Bar­ley­corn Reborn a more inter­est­ing com­pil­a­tion with a wider spec­trum of musi­cians and a higher over­all level of qual­ity. This album, too, would have benefited from input of excel­lent artists such as Sand Snow­man, Far Black Fur­long, or The Owl Ser­vice, which made that first one a suc­cess. Des­pite this, I feel We Bring You a King is a worthy suc­cessor with quite some good tracks on it, and it is def­in­itely worth get­ting for folk lov­ers. How­ever, for the next instal­ment, if one is planned, it would be inter­est­ing to look at the folk world out­side of Bri­tain, and aim to get the very best out of that ter­rit­ory. Either that, or a more crit­ical and thor­ough selec­tion of Brit­ish artists to truly fill up an album with excel­lent mater­ial.

Reviewed by O.S.

1-01 Bar­ron Brady – Earthen Key (3:43)
1-02 Laienda – Little Drum­mer Boy / Anvil (5:53)
1-03 The Rowan Amber Mill – Blood And Bones (Cider­del­ica Mix) (4:50)
1-04 Tony Wake­ford – The Devil (3:58)
1-05 Kate Har­rison – Eng­land (3:59)
1-06 Drohne – The Hooden Horse / An-Dro (3:37)
1-07 Corncrow – The Cutty Wren (3:09)
1-08 Sproatly Smith – I Shall Leave You There (6:10)
1-09 Tinkerscuss – Black Sarah (4:48)
1-10 Cernun­nos Rising – Hear It With My Heart (3:29)
1-11 Mama – The Fool Of Spring (2:11)
1-12 Magic­folk – Green Man (3:17)
1-13 Wyrd­stone – Lost At Ty Canol (4:14)
1-14 Emil Brynge – Devon Dream (4:54)
1-15 Kim Thomp­sett – Lords And Ladies (3:40)
1-16 Dragon Spirit – Always Be Ours (3:57)
1-17 Philip But­ler And Nata­sha Tranter – Jack The Mom­met (4:48)
1-18 Touch The Earth – Ancient Land­scapes (3:17)

2-01 Relig Oran – Ye Mar­iners All (4:37)
2-02 Autumn Grieve – Within Hol­lows (4:56)
2-03 Ian McK­one – Search­ing For Lambs (3:10)
2-04 John Parker – Man­ning­ham Blues (3:55)
2-05 Rat­tle­bag – The Tyburn Sis­ters (2:52)
2-06 The Fates – The Song Of The Fates (3:31)
2-07 The Hare And The Moon – The Three Ravens (2:45)
2-08 The Kit­ti­wakes – Lynx (4:10)
2-09 Venereum Arvum – Robin Sick And Weary (6:25)
2-10 Telling The Bees – Fith­fath (3:18)
2-11 Richard Mas­ters – The Wind Knows (5:33)
2-12 Dem­dyke – Mother Carey’s Chicks (6:18)
2-13 Beneath The Oak – Oh Earthly Man (4:12)
2-14 Sedayne : Sun­dog – A Wee Brown Cow (6:24)
2-15 Ruby Throat – Swan And The Minotaur (Troubled Man) (3:14)
2-16 Jen­nifer Crook – Rib­bons Of Green / The Dream Waltz (Live) (6:43)