Released: March 2015
As a man who records music with simply his iPhone and laptop the last thing one would expect from Sam Lee is the contemporary brand of traditional English and Scottish folk music that emanates from the speakers when playing this second album The Fade In Time. Attempting to reinterpret rather than reinvent the old folk ballads and tales that inspire him, Lee captures the sound of a long forgotten time and enhances it with big brass sounds and unmistakeably 21st century textures. This record is sure to please fans of Middle English verse, but will prove to be a little troublesome for casual listeners.
Mr Lee is on quite a roll at the moment, having been awarded the Arts Foundation Prize in 2011 and nominated for the Mercury Prize a year later. Debut album Ground Of Its Own went down a storm with critics and consumers alike, giving him the scope on The Fade In Time to do whatever he wanted to, with the folk enthusiast opting to delve even deeper into Britain’s rich melodic and poetic history. The fact that the LP’s title sounds a lot like ‘a fading time’ is more than likely intentional – the songs on this album reach further into the past than any notable modern indie-folk release, truly evoking a sense of long lost culture.
For the most part the album aims towards the atmospheric, the dark melodies of these old folk songs lending themselves very nicely to this style. Often African percussive elements and Eastern European sounds lend a helping hand to the traditional English vibe of the record, particularly on opener Johnny o’ the Brine, the title of which implies a sound far closer to home than is present on the track. Brass, strings and acoustic guitars characterise the second halves of most songs, which begin slowly and tensely and build up to something far more grandiose. This is most prominent on Black Bird and Moorlough Maggie, the latter of which showcases rapid string melodies in its outro that serve as unbelievably compelling listening.
Often this atmospheric sound can get the listener very bogged down, and will most likely alienate some of those that are not completely enthusiastic about the ancient folk songs presented here. As the driving force behind BBC Folk Award winning club and label The Nest Collective and a frequent collaborator with the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Lee is evidently a real connoisseur of old English folk music, and this is evident throughout The Fade In Time. Very much a musicians’ musician, Lee doubtlessly impresses fellow experts, but the slow, gradual melodies and often predictable song structures may not be everybody’s cup of tea. If you’re looking for radio-friendly indie-folk, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Technically brilliant, but lacking in the accessibility department, Sam Lee’s latest release is an even further exploration into the niche sounds of old English folk music than his previous work. It isn’t going to claim for him many more fans than those that were already on board, but after witnessing the sheer complexity of each track on The Fade In Time one suspects that wasn’t ever the plan. A compelling, if occasionally difficult, work of art.