Naomi Bedford – A History Of Insolence
Religious intolerance is not new; it stretches back as far as religion is recorded. In 1620, the Mayflower set sail out of Plymouth harbour bound for the New World. In 1861 seven southern states declared their secession from the US and sparked the American Civil War. In 1932 coal miners in Wilder, Tennessee went on strike after their wages were cut for the third time. A company town, Wilder became the center of a violent uprising and a test case for workers rights.
If I told you that an album due for release on September 8 uses these and more to weave a coherent story of political unrest and the need for equality and compassion, and does it so well you not only feel entertained but informed as a result, you might think it a little far-fetched. Naomi Bedford, however, would take issue with that.
A History Of Insolence – Songs of Freedom, Dissent & Strife, is the second album from Naomi, an award winning English vocalist with an excitingly varied CV that includes work with such diverse acts as Orbital, DJ Mex, Rhythm Nylon Machine and Ron Sexsmith, winning plaudits from REMs Peter Buck and Shirley Collins along the way. Her voice is tailor-made for delivering the brittle pride and despair of the working man and woman, a gorgeous instrument that sticks like velcro and seduces like silk, so much so that it’s not a stretch to see her matching the Wilder coal miners stride for stride or standing on the dock as the Mayflower makes for the horizon. The delivery is traditional and impassioned, humble and feisty, honest and bold. It should be on every school’s history curriculum.
Her own history provides insight into the variety on offer, both of musical styles and stories. Davidson Wilder Blues is a Hedy West roundel that takes no prisoners, and Naomi’s voice veers close to echoes of Joni Mitchell – yes, really.
It’s followed by a dreamy folk ballad you might expect Cara Dillon or Kate Rusby to record, the Lady of the land making away with her Gypsy Davy, abandoning security and social standing for love. ..Davy has a nice harmony line from Justin Currie, a long-standing collaborator with Naomi. The Wild & Charming Energy and The Spider & The Wolf, the former a bubbly number complete with brass and co-written with her Paul Simmonds from The Men They Couldn’t Hang highlights the nuance in Naomi’s vocals, the latter a fable sung with onomatopoeic grace, delicate yet as strong as the web the spider weaves. It’s a delightful opening quartet, but the real beauty of this album unfolds in its second half.
The Currie penned We Are Not The People is a delicious slice of the Del Amitri-man’s minor key folk-pop, written for the album and accompanied by a V for Vendetta style video. The change of pace and sonorous piano acts like a pre-cursor to the album’s core; five songs that would not have sounded out of place on a Seeger or Guthrie release. An ocean going duo are first up, the ballad Overseas is a potted history of the aforementioned religious intolerance from Richard Coeur de Lion to the Twin Towers, Raise The Sails a peek into the inventory and impact of a trip across the Atlantic aided by a superb backing vocal from Donna Edmead. Simmond’s Junktown is a fast-paced run through the wrong side of the tracks that will test your ability to sing along without tripping over your tongue. Fields of Clover is a beautiful exploration of the baby boomers and The Old Abandoned Road – ‘The war was fought, and all for naught’ explores the futility of The American Civil War through the eyes of a soldier.
The Watches Of The Night closes proceedings save for a short instrumental reprise of Fields Of Clover. Together, the songs represent an heartfelt attempt to put the lyric and meaning front and center, backed by acoustic instruments playing warm and memorable melodies. The delivery is traditional and impassioned, humble and feisty, honest and bold. It should be on every school’s history curriculum.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Album Review from THE INDEPENDENT ****
The subtitle to Naomi Bedford's second album, "Songs of Murder, Death and Sorrow", leaves little room for doubt or argument. There are no happy endings here, and scant regard for gentler sensibilities, whether Bedford's telling the gruesome tale of "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellendor" or the sadder, sicker account of the Essex millionaire who, facing ruin, killed his family, in "Daddy's Got a Gun".
Set to banjo and astringent fiddle, it's animated by Bedford's tremulous voice, a striking instrument with skillful touches of vibrato and melisma capable of transforming Warren Zevon's mythopoeic mercenary ballad "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" into a trad-folk parable.
Best of all is "My Love Is Deep", a murder duet with Justin Currie set to a hissing loop and ramshackle piano. Brilliant and original, in equal parts.
Album Review from Mojo Magazine **** Colin Erwin
Armed with testimonials from Peter Buck and Shirley Collins, a tag (from Del Amitri’s Justin Currie) as an English Emmylou Harris and an old hit single with Orbital on her CV, Naomi Bedford delivers a relentlessly intriguing self-financed album. Bedford’s yearning, no-frills voice brings compelling potency to the “songs of murder, death and sorrow” of the sub-title, her own aching, country-fuelled material blending easily with a couple of trad folk epics and songs by Paul Simmonds, Paul Heaton and – best of all – Warren Zevon’s magnificent Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner. Overseeing tasteful, understated arrangements, Gerry Diver masterminds an offbeat production of My Love Is Deep, a bluesy collaboration with Justin Currie, while Heaton duets on Ferry Boat Inn and Alasdair Roberts pops up on two tracks, including a respectful treatment of the great ballad The Death Of Queen Jane unexpectedly wonderful.
‘'Her voice is so striking......that your attention gets quickly nailed to the floor .... you’re on such a high at the end that you instantly hit play again, several times. It’s easy to get besotted with.'’
Crikey, a real grower, this one. You stick it on and your first thought is 'country rock'. You note a strong, hard voice which reminds you a little of early Emmylou and even longer-ago names like Carolyn Hester or Hedy West. But while the style and inflections are American, her accent stays mostly English – she's a Londoner now living in Brighton – and that gets increasingly attractive as the album progresses (not for nothing does she have an endorsement from Shirley Collins). But it takes a few tracks to really get going, during which the reviewer gets distracted by reading a spiky biog ('80s wild child, dad's a pop video editor, Julien Temple & Don Letts in the kitchen, a role in Militant's demos, a top 20 hit with Orbital, a rediscovery of the folk and country records of her childhood years...)Her voice is so striking that I could easily have lived without a rather formulaic duet with Del Amitri's Justin Currie that pops up in third place, but after that your attention gets quickly nailed to the floor by a version of the traditional Willow Garden and then a rivetting take on Warren Zevon's Roland The Headless Thomson Gunner (a song which deserves to be as fêted and covered as anything by Richard Thompson or Eric Bogle, but this one will be hard to beat).
After that the changes and variety come thick and fast: a better Currie collaboration, the traditional Lord Thomas & Fair Ellendor, a rockabilly Railroad Bill, and the disquieting Ferryboat Inn co-written by the Beautiful South's Paul Heaton and David Rotheray, where she duets with the former. Then bringing up the rear, co-producer Paul (The Men They Couldn't Hang) Simmonds' glorious Colwyn Bay and the pièce de résistance, The Death Of Queen Jane, both with Alasdair Roberts.
This very strange sequencing – which may not work to its advantage with those seeking instant gratification – does have one good side effect: you're on such a high at the end that you instantly hit play again, several times. It's easy to get besotted with.
Simmonds' and Gerry Diver's production skills work to good effect. Right now it comes with a note explaining that this early version is pre-mastering so there are a few minor track level variations. Hopefully she will deservedly find a wider release for it to sort out such things; meanwhile, don't wait, it's so good you'll buy it twice.
Album Review from Folkwords
‘Tales from the Weeping Willow’ - a sombre collection of sinister and bleak songs, laments and ‘murder ballads’
Naomi Bedford has released her second album: ‘Tales from the Weeping Willow’, a sombre collection of sinister and bleak songs, laments and ‘murder ballads’. And once you listen to Naomi's voice you realise the promise of her first album 'Dark They Were & Golden Eyed' is brought to glorious fruition with 'Tales From The Weeping Willow'.
This collection of dark, shadowy songs, subtitled ‘Songs of Murder, Death and Sorrow’, is a priceless blend of traditional and original American and English folk. Together with Naomi’s writing and vocal talents it embraces the abilities of Paul Heaton, Justin Currie, Alisdair Roberts, Paul Simmonds, Kris Dollimore, Gerry Diver, Lenny Harvey and Dave Rothan among others.
Naomi’s voice engages with a haunting absorbing quality that gives depth and presence to her songs. It’s immediately evident through the uncertain peril of ‘Daddy’s Got a Gun’ – by Paul Simmonds, and the sad confusion of ‘February’ – a Naomi Bedford original. The traditional Appalachian bluegrass murder ballad ‘Willow Garden’ is a cruel tale of murderous love, which Naomi delivers to perfection. The intriguingly titled ‘Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner’ - a Warren Zevon song - tells tale of entanglement in the brutal late-60’s wars in Nigeria and Congo. Although the protagonist gains a fearsome reputation with his Thompson machine gun, he is murdered by a fellow mercenary. This tale of betrayal alone could define the album for its pure brooding menace and ghostly, eerie ending.
Naomi continues to superbly express elaborate narrative songs with Lord Thomas and Fair Ellendor’ - another Appalachian song; from the old Scottish ballad ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Annet’ or ‘The Brown Girl’. Naomi gives this classic tale of marrying for money over love an evocative bitterness as she regails us with the agony of its murder and beheading. To hear Naomi’s voice add expression and feeling to the ‘murder ballad’ theme is a pure pleasure, as she does with Paul Heaton and David Rotheray’s ‘The Ferryboat Inn’ and the yearning sadness of ‘The Clouds of Colwyn Bay’ written by Paul Simmonds. Another defining moment comes with ‘The Death of Queen Jane’ - an English ballad about the death of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII. Naomi chooses the basic tale of Queen Jane’s difficult labour and death to build the song around her captivating voice adding gentle harmonies and subtle strings to simply make this version precious.
If 'Dark They Were & Golden Eyed' brought Naomi some much-deserved attention then 'Tales From The Weeping Willow' should have an ever-widening audience appreciating her talent.