House and Land: Across the Field review – a magical recasting of music history

(Thrill Jockey)
Electronic experimentalism duels with classic banjo sounds for this ambient, affecting new twist on American folk music

Weird folk is drifting in from America again, from the Appalachians and the Ozarks, bringing with it songs of ravens and rainbow willows, trellised in new arrangements. House and Land are a duo based in North Carolina, fond of free improvisation, minimalism and the power of drones. Multi-instrumentalist Sarah Louise makes solo experimental electronic albums, such as this year’s fantastic Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars, and Sally Anne Morgan has played banjo and fiddle fantastically in bands for years. Now on their second album together, House of Land are weaving intriguing new trails into tradition.

Their sound recalls the early 21st-century psychedelic folk revival initially, their voices clashing and unfurling like ancient field recordings. They are keen scholars too, as seen in their liner notes: their version of Scottish ballad Two Sisters comes from North Carolina’s Artus Moser, featuring unusual, affecting lyrics about a jury hanging over the rosemary. Their musical settings give these songs new shoots. Louise’s guitar imitates patterns from an oscillating modular synthesiser as banjo figures loop round; the effect shows how closely nature and electronics can connect. Her reverb-slathered recorders on Blacksmith and Ca the Yowes occasionally veer into Pan Pipe Moods territory, but generally the ambient miasma gives the songs a magical lift.

Like Our Native Daughters earlier this year, House and Land take scalpels to traditional lyrics that scream of misogyny. In Rainbow Mid Lifes Willows, a “wise” father and “stalwart” brothers who kill its subject’s beloved become “mean” and “cruel”. Lyrics criticising Carolina Lady in the song of the same name are also omitted. This isn’t a rewriting of history but a recasting, the songs’ subjects finally being given their voices.

Also out this month

Ben Walker’s stunning debut album Echo (Folkroom), meticulously unearthing many lost Sussex songs. It flits from hauntology reminiscent of Gavin Bryars on Rings to gorgeous duets with Laura Ward and Kitty Macfarlane of Hickory Signals. An impressive cast of folk stalwarts release Spell Songs (Quercus), a set of new compositions inspired by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s book The Lost Words. You Are Wolf’s Ghost Owl and Beth Porter’s Charm On, Goldfinch are the highlights. Belinda O’Hooley, fresh from newfound fame with her wife Heidi Tidow (the theme for BBC1’s Gentleman Jack drama is theirs), also releases Inversions (Proper), a set of beautiful piano and spoken-word pieces about Ireland and Wales.

Contributor

Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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