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The Sorrow Songs – Angeline Morrison.

Oct 15, 2022

Quiet, considered and sombre this recording is nevertheless significant. Charting neglected waters in terms of British folk song, Angeline Morrison delves into the stories and experiences of the African diaspora which has been part of our history yet until recently never saw the spotlight. That the album’s title is ‘Sorrow Songs,’ tells you much, the subtitle ‘Folk Songs Of Black British Experience’ brings clarity. With Eliza Carthy on board as producer there’s a sympathetic angle which she brings to the project both as the person behind the console and  as an arranger. Raised in the Midlands Morrison is the daughter of a  Scottish father and a Jamaican mother, who’s had an abiding love of traditional folk since she heard Shirley Collins on the radio. That deep appreciation took her to folk clubs as a teenager  and music became central to her life, ending up moving to Truro in Cornwall where she lectures on popular music at Falmouth University, concurrently juggling multiple melodic adventures.

That her location has contributed to the idea of ‘ The Sorrow Songs,’ is borne out by ‘ Unknown African Boy,’ the tale of a small child from Africa whose body was washed ashore on The Isles Of Scilly and who lies in St. Martin’s church yard. It’s an atmospheric lament written from the point of view of his grieving mother, the track begins with crying seagulls and then gentle strumming underlies the lyric of plaintive thought and unanswered questions. Written by Morrison the song has the form of an ages old trad English number. Likewise ‘Go Home’ a message which too many who have fled persecution and inequality have heard when they arrive desperate for  peace and stability. The chorus swells with massed vocals as a delicate picked piano cradles the words which hit hard, anguish and confusion abound. ‘Black John,’ another story of child abduction does at least have an uplifting ending as he turned his hand to gardening, going on to become one of the best horticulturists in Wales, where he married a local girl and raised a family. A fiddler too, his gentle disposition and abilities are celebrated in fine style, the setting reminded me of traditional staple ‘The Gardener.’

Signed to Topic you can’t help but nod approval for such a brave, bold work, yet you also have to ask why it has taken so long to sing about such affecting, relevant topics and obvious source material? Angeline Morrison’s started, hopefully others will take up the baton and run with the concept. More than that though it should lead to a wider acknowledgement that the roots of British folk are more complicated than has so far been accepted. Complicated yes, but richer and healthier for it. Music to make you question and think as well as entertain.

Simon Jones.


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