May 6, 2016 by Robb Powell
It is always good when a new album teaches you something. This one is a little embarrassing. For myself and not the artist, I mean. I grew up in the burbs of Birmingham (Burbingham?) and I very often return to visit the growing brood of nieces, nephews and of course the whole family. Without sounding up myself, my intelligence level is fairly high (which never negates how stoopid I can still be) so quite how I can have reached my age (22, honestly!) and only find out there is a river called Rea running through Birmingham when reading about Songs of the River Rea, well I just don’t know. Add to this family roots on the working canals as they dwindled.
Katy Rose Bennett very kindly sent me across this new record, Songs of the River Rea last weekend and I am well and truly hooked on it. It is a beautiful record! As I was sitting having that first listen while beginning to plan a Wales road trip, it clicked how perfect it would be to write up a quick post making Katy Rose Bennett my latest #FindFolkFriday suggestion. Great timing for the album too.
This is a wonderful mix of songs. Songs about family, about the community and songs about surviving the trials life tends to throw in our direction to catch us off guard. Running through all (like a river runs through it) is the beautiful backdrop of greenery, nature and that River Rea painting a really nice contrasting and rather vivid picture of Birmingham. It is an image I like very much and I love how I’m reminded of the other side to this hectic heaving metropolis in such an immersive way via this music and these superb songs. Indeed, it is a stunning way to build up that picture, to learn about other lives and dreams in a way that makes you feel a part of the stories. Whether you are from Birmingham and its surrounding areas or not, this album will catch you unawares and reel you in for keeps.
The atmosphere conjured up via words, vocals, backing vocals and marvellous music on opening track Cold November Day is so delightfully toasty warm. And yet you feel the cold of that snow and the freeze of the Cold November Day, such are the skills at work here. It’s as if there is an open fire roaring to bring you indoors and warm you up. The excellence continues and I must admit that Counting Kettles bought the lovely Victoria Wood into my mind quite vividly. A fond and beautiful way of remembrance, perhaps triggered by the line about not having ‘yet filmed our comedy sketch show‘ mostly, but the whole feel of the song had me smiling from the warmth and closeness of it. Told through the engaging story of a lifelong committed couple, Jack & Ivy is a bittersweet lament of the way things used to be and how the loss of such a deeply loved partner means they remain behind in spirit ever after. This is one of my top favourites if I’m forced to make such selections. Such a perfect snapshot and I do so love how music can bring such stories to life where it is practically acted out in front of you.
Lead track One Day cranks things up a little with a bit of a light jig-fuelled stomp and a chorus to match. And yet this is managed with a gorgeous sharp subtlety, while the earthy tones of living off the land with your Soul in the Soil digs in deep. Prepare to dance aplenty when Rusted Ring kicks off as from the word GO it is a soaked in light blues bouncy Americana bordering on alternative country smash! Complete with a wonderful hook-laden chorus that you’ll be humming and singing all year! I shall not lie, Fried Green Tomatoes had me checking out old episodes of Home & Away on YouTube, bringing back memories wider and more personal than merely the soap drama. The whole collection on this album is nothing short of a masterpiece of songwriting, musicianship and production. Evocative and enchanting flute from Robin Bennett on a few tracks is always a treat, but even more especially so on We’ll Keep Trying, it is perfection.
A number of fellow musicians and friends were along for the ride to contribute to making Songs of the River Rea, all who deserve your attention. But Katy Rose Bennett‘s huge heart and soul runs through this record, again – much like the river Rea runs through the lands she lives. Her keen observations and magnificent songrwriting breathes stories old and new directly into your life. Stories that stay with you long after.
I recall very clearly seeing Katy perform live at both Wood and Truck Festivals in 2013. At the former she had more members of her Cavalry Parade but even with just brother Joe Bennett (The Dreaming Spires, Co-Pilgrim, Paul McClure) later at Truck she was mesmerising. Engaging, captivating and quite frankly, flawless – I could not recommend seeing her live highly enough. It’s been three years and it was so good I remember it like it was last week and I have been to a heck of a lot of gigs since then.
Joe was a major driving force in finally convincing Katy to get on with making this album. Other contributions from Phill Ward (guitar), Hannah Rhodes (voice), Mike Monaghan (drums), CJ Hillman (pedal steel).
Songs of the River Rea was released on 25th April 2016.
Dates to catch Katy live:
Wood Festival (22nd May)
Truck Festival (17th July)
Acclaim for Katy’s previous work:
“A sophisticated mix of folk, jazz pop and rustica” – The Independent
“Strikingly original” – UNCUT
“Heart-wrenchingly gorgeous” Northern Sky
#FindFolkFriday is about sharing musicians and their music. I also encourage you to delve deep into the back catalogues. Even if you don’t have time right away there’s always a wealth of gems in them there previous albums and recordings.
- Katy has released three albums as KTB: All Calm In Dreamland (2002); Bluebird (2005) and Indelible Ink (2009).
- She has been a BBC Young Folk Award Finalist and performed across the UK supporting acts including Willy Mason, Karine Polwart and The Staves.
- She was a founding member of the Birmingham all-female, folk/world group Little Sister.