Brother Crow - Hollow Hills
Review by Ruth Palmer, Folking.Com, March 2009
Hollow Hills is Brother Crow's follow up to their well-received début album of 2007, One For Sorrow. Thankfully the duo have maintained the same traditional storytelling methods to their music which was so prevalent in their début, as this for me is their main appeal. It is comforting to know that artists that sit at the forefront of nu-folk are still able to write songs that reflect the narrative style of bygone folk, and to do it so seamlessly is what makes Brother Crow special and allows their music to sit comfortably beneath the term 'real' folk music.
The talented acoustic duo are Andrew Davison (vocals, guitar and bouzouki) and Graeme Carroll (mandolin), both from the North East of England. The focus of much of their work is influenced by the rural spread of the Durham Dales, in particular Weardale. Their songs reflect the passion they behold for their home and its heritage and tell tales of the area's past and present, and its events and residents. The sleeve-notes provide the background behind each song, and I found that if I read the synopses before I listened, it made the experience much more meaningful, and allowed me to hear the emotion intertwined through each song much more clearly. This emotion is particularly crystalline in "All That I Believe," which is dedicated to the recent closure of Weardale's very last dairy farm, its closure due to the economics, where the cost of producing milk was more than the farm was being paid. In the same vein as Show of Hand's "Country Life," almost a protest song, the mass conglomerates and the 'state' of modern life are blamed for the destruction of the traditional ways of working the land. The poignant lyrics "Costs more to keep a herd than anything we take / still I keep on trying just for my family's sake / every year its harder to survive" summarizes the tone of the heart-felt tribute to the farm and the way of the countryside that once was.
"As Children We Would Run" adds to the thought-provoking anthology, inspired by the true story of a mining disaster that took place in Brancepeth Colliery, County Durham in 1869, resulting in two deaths and widespread injury. "Bingology (A New Home/Bingo's Birthday/The Happy Hound)" adds some lightness to the often dark nature of the album. Bingo is Graeme's greyhound and this jovial jig is written about him -- Carroll's mandolin super-talent is truly emphasized in this piece. Bingo's barking percussion contribution will make any listener chuckle to themselves, or at the very least smile... guaranteed! "The Road To Who Knows Where" is also sprung from the more light-hearted Brother Crow music box, self described as "A simple little song about a man trying to persuade a woman to run off with him."
Hollow Hills is another quality acoustic music production and fitting celebration of the beauty and remarkable history of the Durham Dales from Brother Crow. If one enjoyed One For Sorrow then it's without doubt that this more recent Brother Crow folk-excellence will too impress, if not exceed your expectations of the duo. The musical strength of the album is also likely to gain some more fans and increase their well-deserved following.
Brother Crow - Hollow Hills
Review by Tim Carroll, FolkWords (www.folkwords.com), November 2008
Hollow Hills - songs of depth and truth
If their debut album was Brother Crow delivering profound, penetrating songs then ‘Hollow Hills’ is the duo proving their worth as masters of the English folk genre. If you adore the story-telling folk song in Durham-based duo Brother Crow, Andrew Davison (vocals, guitars and bouzouki) and Graeme Carroll (mandolin, backing vocals) you will find undisputed masters of the art. Andrew’s voice ranges from aching longing to frustrated anguish while Graeme’s mandolin dances across the tunes to enrich the vocals.
There’s no doubt about it ‘Hollow Hills’ is an album of incisive songs combined with skilled musicianship. The powerful lyrics protest injustice, unfairness and the loss of the world that although filled with hardship, stood for something important. What’s more that ‘something’ is vanishing and only songs like these will be its guardian for the future. Andrew’s words reveal the significance of history and tradition - there’s undeniable truth in these songs.
The opening track continues the story of Tom Lowrie from their first album, with ‘Dead Man’s Coat’, a sorrowful, reflective song which takes the revenge-ridden gamekeeper’s son from righteous indignation further into despair. Although ‘All That I Believe’ is a cry for the loss of Weardale’s last dairy farm it could stand a testament to any passing tradition as the old ways as ‘market forces’ grind away the old ways.
The title track ‘Hollow Hills’ is both mournful and angry, recording the terrible bleakness of life led by Teesdale lead miners. The lyrics reflect the overpowering sense of futility felt by these poor people. Most of their songs have tinges of regret and sadness, and ‘St Cuthbert’s Day’ is no exception, however it’s a truly beautiful song, with an entrancing melody, beautifully sung. I can almost hear the audience joining it at the end of a set – all with tears streaming down their faces.
There’s one song on this album that pierces the heart. It cuts through all the jingoistic, militarism that surrounds wars, which win nothing and just hurt everyone. ‘No Money for the Widows’ tells the story of one of those unfortunate victims shot at dawn because of stupid thoughtless arrogant generals. And its final lines should nail those bastions of misguided belief to the wall in shame.
There’s just so much you can write in a review before readers switch off. That may be, but ‘Hollow Hills’ demands so many words and this one doesn’t say anything like enough. Brother Crow may mourn the loss of so much in their songs but they give so much to the listener – if you only buy one album this winter - buy this one.
Brother Crow - Hollow Hills
Review by Dave Kidman, Folk Roundabout, November 2008
Since around this time last year or just before, the profile enjoyed by this charismatic Weardale duo (guitarist-songwriter Andrew Davison and mandolinist-tunewriter Graeme Carroll) has risen considerably, largely due to their hard graft in putting themselves about by some intensive gigging around and about in far-flung places way outwith north-east England.
The word has certainly spread, to the extent that Hollow Hills, their second CD, has been very eagerly awaited. For those of us who were captivated by Brother Crow's debut CD (One For Sorrow), Hollow Hills feels very much like a continuation of that disc. In the nicest possible sense, it's more of the same - excellent original songs, delivered with a gentle passion to a typically finely judged and unobtrusive stringed accompaniment: no more, no less. And that's meant as a compliment to the consistency of the lads' output, the unity of their distinctive vision which embraces a deep spiritual connection with their native landscape.
The flipside to this coin of consistency, though, is the inescapable fact that a significant number of their original songs tend to inhabit a broadly similar chord sequence and melody contour - and a fairly uniform medium-slow pace into the bargain. This observation is exacerbated, I feel, by the running-order chosen for the new CD, where four out of the first five songs seem to lack variety in these purely musical respects and thus the listener may well end up missing out on the impact of the powerful narratives being spun. And yes, they are powerful, shot through with a passionate empathy with the characters and their plight and a keen sense of local history that's strengthened by the lads' thorough research into their sources (they've definitely taken a leaf out of Tom Bliss's book here!). Here we learn of the lost industries of Upper Weardale and Teesdale (lead mining, dairy farming), there's stories of a parting couple (St. Cuthbert's Day), a railway accident (As Children We Would Run) and the local Union Workhouse (Child Of His Time); and Hollow Hills even takes up where One For Sorrow left off by providing (in Dead Man's Coat) a sequel to the earlier CD's tale of Tom Lowrie.
Having got the above (necessary) reservation out of the way, then, you'll find the second half of the disc somewhat more contrasted and the songs thus somehow more immediately memorable. And Hollow Hills also contains some comparatively uptempo material: the punchy No Money For The Widows, the folk-friendly singalong refrain of The Road To Who Knows Where, and the playful little instrumental Bingology. But lest the potential purchaser be deterred by a cursory glance at the tracklist, not failing to notice the "heavenly length" of Brother Crow songs (again, only one clocks in at less than five minutes), let me say that in truth one barely notices the passage of time when caught up in the narrative flow of the tales being recounted.
So in a nutshell, this new CD's another quality product (both in music and presentation terms), and (my reservations notwithstanding) is unlikely to disappoint Brother Crow's growing fanbase.
Brother Crow - One For Sorrow
Review by Mike Wilson, Folking.Com, August 2007
Brother Crow are a formidable acoustic duo, made up of Andrew Davison (vocals, guitar and bouzouki) and Graeme Carroll (mandolin). The guys hail from the rural North East of England, and the influences of the Durham Dales resonate strongly throughout their self-penned efforts, bringing to life the area's characters of past and present. Their song-writing demonstrates a canny knack for creating material that is at once timeless, soaking up traditional influences and telling a great story -- think somewhere between Steve Tilston and Show of Hands.
The ghosts of local characters loom large in a number of impressive songs. The epic "How Do You Do Tom Barton" remembers the 1908 tragedy of a local miner, badly burned whilst rescuing a child from a fire, then tragically killed some weeks later in a mining accident. The song builds momentum to a powerful crescendo that flawlessly accentuates the drama of the lyrics; "What would you have done if you'd known you only had six weeks to live with the scars." We are taken even further back in time, to the 17th century, with "The Ballad of John Duckett," compassionately recalling the story of John Duckett and Ralph Corby, both executed for performing a Catholic Baptism at the height of the English Civil War. It is these stories from history that really leave their mark after just one listen -- obviously well researched and faithfully recounted.
Elsewhere, local characters feature again, this time in a modern day tale of a Bishop Auckland street renowned as a meeting place for courting couples, whilst "Wonderland" tells the story of losing touch with a friend who moves away in pursuit of a better life; "I never thought I'd come to understand, how so much can change between here and wonderland." A tender, reminiscent piece remembering departed family, "Let The Dance Go On," achieves particularly poignancy and provides further evidence of the duo's considerable song-writing abilities.
Instrumental accompaniment is minimal, striking just the right balance between charm and bleakness as the mood of the song requires -- the constant presence of Carroll's mandolin providing the lighter contrast to Davison's sturdy guitar. Throughout One For Sorrow Davison's voice provides a stirring focus, effortlessly carrying the emotions of the lyrics.
Brother Crow are likely to win over many new friends with One For Sorrow. Indeed, the strength of their material suggests they have written songs that may well be with us for a long time to come.
Brother Crow – One For Sorrow
Review by Dave Kidman, Folk Roundabout, November 2007
Brother Crow (alias guitarist-songwriter Andrew Davison and mandolinist-tunewriter Graeme Carroll) hail from Weardale, in the rural North East, and they perform (Andrew’s) original songs about the people, places and historical events of the Durham Dales on one hand and about family or more personal matters on the other.
These songs are certainly memorable, many of them peculiarly haunting, and their lyrics (suitably evocative, while not exactly in the Bob Pegg class) are well matched by the style of the accompanying instrumentation – gently tuneful (in the folk-rock sense) mandolin and delicate-but-powerful bouzouki and guitar, with the relaxed poise of a Magna Carta or Blondel but no lack of drive in the rhythmic impetus when required.
All of the songs share an appealing demeanour of reflective introspection, even when recounting those historical events or issues – which is no bad thing – and they use their extended span (most weigh in at over five minutes’ duration) wisely without outstaying their welcome.
Andrew’s done his research into the events, people and places he chronicles, and his songs have the stamp of authority that goes with such territory. At times I was reminded of the songs and styling of masters of this type of song such as Tom Bliss and Steve Knightley: without appearing derivative, The Ballad Of John Duckett put me in mind of early Show Of Hands material (again, no bad role-model!).
On the life-experience front, simple values and aspirations are celebrated on Settle Down, and Let The Dance Goes On is a loving memoir of Andrew’s family. And I particularly liked Lilies And Blood Roses, “a jolly little song about a suicide pact” which has a keen traditional feel (complete with catchy refrain).
Finally, Graeme’s degree of accomplishment as a tunesmith (he won the Durham Traditional Music Festival’s James Hill Trophy two years running!) is cheekily showcased midway through the disc on the brief and charming Arran Set.
This disc’s overall attractiveness is further enhanced by its pure-toned, clear and uncluttered recording and artful cover photography.
Brother Crow – One For Sorrow
Review Froots Magazine No. 294, December 2007
Original music replete with the charm of the duo’s native Weardale, presenting historical songs about the Durham Dales interspersed with more introspective and reflective compositions (all from the pen of guitarist Andrew Davison). Some attractive, gentle-but-complex mandolin playing (Graeme Carroll) and a commendably clear recording to match.
Brother Crow - One For Sorrow
Review by Tim Carroll, FolkWords (www.folkwords.com), February 2008.
One for Sorrow - is a selection of yearning, searching songs from Durham-based duo Brother Crow. There’s depth here that makes an exceptional debut album. Brother Crow is Andrew Davison (vocals, guitar and bouzouki) and Graeme Carroll (mandolin, tenor banjo).
Andrew delivers his powerful lyrics in a compelling, grief-stricken edgy voice that takes some getting used to - but once you do it’s a voice that you want to hear more and more. Speaking as an avid fan of the story-telling folk song, his ability to create narrative lyric-pictures is outstanding. These are lyrics worth taking time to know. Graeme’s musicianship takes the mandolin to heights many will not expect. His style intertwines traditional with contemporary, which can make his playing hard to date, and all the better for that.
With so much to offer, One for Sorrow reaches out to touch your soul and that makes it hard to choose favourites. The world has many songs about death and revenge - few have the darkness and power of Tom Lowrie. And then there’s How Do You Do Tom Barton? - a perfect showcase for their flair - Graeme weaves a precise musical net to catch the lyrics, while Andrew’s voice drives the story home inch by painful inch. The Ballad of John Ducket is one of those mournful, poignant songs that prompt tears to your eyes before the end. Wonderland, is a deeply conveyed pain of lost love, and my favourite, Let the Dance Go On is just perfect - full of understanding and concentrated emotion. It´s a perfect tribute to one man’s past and future, a glorious song - no argument.
Brother Crow offer their audience profound, penetrating, intense songs delivered with feeling and passion - and that’s a talent many will envy.
Moonbeams Acoustic - Live Review
Steve Rudd, thisisull.Com
Headlining the evening after acting as soundmen for the four acts that had preceded them, on strutted Brother Crow, a duo from Weardale. With Andrew Davison on vocals, guitar and bouzouki, and Graeme Carroll weaving intoxicating melodies aplenty on mandolin, they are renowned for their haunting, captivating songs, the themes of which are often dominated by County Durham's long association with coal-mining.
Performing songs from their One For Sorrow album, they commanded the stage from the off, Let The Dance Go On moving in its sentiments. Like Anna Shannon before them, Brother Crow are fond of romanticizing everyday folk in their ballads, making heroes of the unheroic.
While Andrew explained the stories behind their songs, Graeme was content to lose himself in the music, swaying in time to the plucky melodies.
How Do You Do Tom Barton? makes a rightful hero of a man who rushes into a burning house to try and save a child, only to fail in his mission. Nevertheless, Tom Barton is still regarded as a hero for so bravely putting his life on the line; what's more, Brother Crow are set to play the song at a memorial service being held for Tom in Willington, County Durham, come July.
Let's just hope they can find time to return to a future Moonbeams evening though, for their passionate performance was the icing on what had been yet another sweet feast of music, from a variety of uniformly superb acts.